©Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Fondation UGA
Ice Memory, mission accomplished on the Col du Dôme
Scientists are joining forces to create a global archive of glacial ice for future generations.
The project’s first mission to protect the world’s Ice Memory, launched in France on 15 August 2016 in the Mont Blanc massif, drew to a successful conclusion on 29 August. Coordinated by Patrick Ginot, a research engineer at the French Research Institute for Development (IRD) working within the UGA-CNRS Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics (LGGE - UGA/CNRS), and Jérôme Chappellaz, Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and working within the same laboratory, an international team of glaciologists and engineers – from France, Italy, Russia and the US – extracted the first three “ice heritage cores” from the Col du Dôme (4,300 metres, Mont-Blanc massif). The goal is to build the world’s first library of ice archives extracted from glaciers which are threatened by global warming.

©Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Fondation UGA
©Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Fondation UGA

Drilling began on 16 August and finished ten days later. Three ice cores, measuring 126, 128 and 129 metres in length, were extracted and then lowered into the valley by helicopter. They are currently in storage near Grenoble in a refrigerated warehouse. One of them will be analysed on-site to provide the international scientific community at large with an available database. The other two will be shipped and then transferred onto tracked vehicles for transportation across the high plateaus of Antarctica, in 2020, for safekeeping at the Concordia base, which is run by the French Paul-Emile Victor Polar Institute (IPEV) and its Italian partner, the National Antarctic Research Programme (PNRA). The long-term plan is to have dozens of ice core archives, from glaciers all over the world, stored in a snow cave at -54°C – the most reliable and natural freezer in the world.

©Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Fondation UGA
©Sarah Del Ben/Wild Touch/Fondation UGA

The Col du Dôme glacier represents the first step in this major project, originally launched in 2015 by the LGGE, Ca’Foscari University of Venice (Italy) and the Italian National Research Council (CNR), overseen by the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation. A second, longer and more complex operation will be carried out in 2017 on the Illimani glacier in the Bolivian Andes. A number of other countries have already shown an interest in joining this project and protecting the memory of the glaciers to which they have access, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, the US, Russia, China, Nepal and Canada.

Why build this archive now?

The idea for this project first came about when scientists observed a rise in temperatures on several glaciers. At ten-year intervals, the temperature near the glaciers on the Col du Dôme and Illimani in the Andes has risen between 1.5° and 2°C. By the end of the 21st century, there will be no ice left below 3,500m in the Alps, or below 5,400m in the Andes. "We are the only community of scientists working on climate experiencing a disappearance in part of its archives. We urgently needed to build this heritage for the future, much like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault kept on the island of Spitsbergen," explains Jérôme Chappellaz, the French project initiator. Glaciology makes an invaluable contribution to environmental and climate science and is crucial for more effectively predicting our future. But it will soon run out of high-quality raw material collected from mountain regions due to global warming.

"Our generation of scientists, which is witnessing first-hand the effects of global warming, has a particular responsibility as regards future generations. That is why we will be donating these ice samples from the world’s most fragile glaciers to the scientific community of the decades and centuries to come, when these glaciers will have disappeared or lost their data quality," adds Carlo Barbante, the Italian project initiator and Director of the Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes, CNR, Ca’Foscari University of Venice.

A strong scientific campaign and major sponsorship efforts

The IPEV, PNRA and Communauté Université Grenoble Alpes are working closely with the scientific bodies behind the project – Université Grenoble Alpes, the CNRS, the IRD, the CNR (Italy), Ca' Foscari University and the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation.

The project is also making a contribution to the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP) as part of the IHP-VIII (2014-2021) Thematic Area on snow, glaciers, water and water resources.

This project benefits from the skills and equipment of its French and Italian partner organisations and receives financial support from private sponsors via the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation. The team would like to thank the sponsors of this first mission, without whom the project could never have happened – Prince Albert 2 of Monaco Foundation, whose purpose is to protect the environment and to encourage sustainable development, Findus France, French manufacturer of frozen food, French glaciologist and ice coring pioneer Claude Lorius, Foundation of Petzl, French manufacturer of mountain equipment, GMM, French manufacturer of cable transportation systems, and Pressario, press agency.

The Foundation’s funding campaign is already under way for the 2017 Bolivia expedition and for the cores’ transportation to Antarctica.

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Published on December 22, 2016
Updated on December 23, 2016