skip page navigationOregon State University

« Out of Greenland, defrosting | Where I’ll be… »

About me and the ice core project…

Posted November 17th, 2009 by

Who am I?

I am PhD student in geology at Oregon State University where I study how carbon dioxide has varied in the past.  You can learn more about the OSU ice core lab. I grew up in Boardman and St.  Helens, Oregon and went the college at the University of Chicago.

What will I be doing?

I will be helping drill an ice core in Antarctica.   My primary job will be to inspect the core after it comes off the drill to note breaks and fractures and package to core so it can be shipped back to the US.

Where do ice cores come from?

Ice cores come from the coldest regions of the world where snow falls every year and very little to no snow melts during the summer.  Most ice cores come from Greenland and Antarctica but some are taken from the highest mountain chains of the world like the Andes and the Himalayas.

What is special about this ice core?

This ice core is located at the top of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet (WAIS) where the flow of ice has formed a divide.   A divide is high place on a ice sheet where the ice will flow in different directions, much like a continental divide.  The ice at this divide flows to the Ross Ice Shelf and glaciers that terminate in the Amundsen Sea (sea map).   The ice core is thus called the WAIS Divide Ice Core.  The accumulation rate of snow is high in this region which means the site is very stormy but also means the record we will recover will be very high-resolution.  One of the main goals of this project is to recover the highest resolution and best dated record of greenhouse gases over the last 80,000 years.

What can we learn from ice cores?

Ice cores allow us to look back at climate conditions of the past.  Snow that falls at an ice core site will trap material present in the atmosphere such as dust, aerosols and volcanic ash.  As the snow compacts to ice, it will also trap air from the atmosphere in tiny bubbles.   The layers of ice that are deposited every year lay on top of each other like the pages in a book.  Thus the deeper the core goes, the older the ice gets.

What can ice cores tell us about how the earth has changed in the past?

Ice cores show us that, over long periods of time, the earth’s climate changes naturally.  Paleoclimate records show us that the earth has warmed and cooled over the last 600,000 years and the main greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, and N2O) have also increased and decreased.  Generally, we see that the earth is warmer when the greenhouse gases are higher.  Today, though, greenhouse gases are much higher than scientists have ever measured in ice cores due to the burning of fossil fuels.  Ice core scientists study how climate has changed in the past to better understand how to the climate might change in the future.

Leave a Reply