Collecting ice cores from high-mountain glaciers most at risk from climate change and storing them in Antarctica for future generations of scientists: that is the goal of ICE MEMORY, an international program aimed at preserving the memory of high-mountain glaciers.
Climate archives under threat
Non-polar glacial ice holds a wealth of information about past changes in climate, the environment and especially atmospheric composition, such as variations in temperature, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and emissions of natural aerosols or human-made pollutants… The glaciers therefore hold the memory of former climates and help to predict future environmental changes.
Over the last few decades, glaciologists have been observing the effect of increased temperatures on the melting of high-mountain glaciers in Europe and especially in the Andes. Time is running out: if global warming continues at its current rate, glaciers at an altitude below 3,500 metres in the Alps and 5,400 metres in the Andes will have disappeared by the end of the end of the 21st century . These are unique pages in the history of our environment which will therefore be lost forever.
Protecting ice memory
Faced with this alarming observation, French and Italian glaciologists decided to take action and launched the ICE MEMORY project in 2015. Backed by the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation, it unites the following partners: CNRS, IRD, Université Grenoble Alpes, National Research Council of Italy, Ca' Foscari University of Venice, as well as IPEV (French Polar Institute) and the Italian Antarctic research program (PNRA) as regards the Concordia station (joint French-Italian research facility located in Antarctica).
Their primary goal: create the world's first ice archive sanctuary in Antarctica, using glaciers threatened by global warming. Antarctica is indeed the most reliable -- and natural -- freezer in the world. Hundreds of ice cores taken from around the world will be stored for several centuries in a snow cave at -54°C in Antarctica, at the Concordia station, which is run by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) and the Italian Antarctic Research program (PNRA). These samples will be the property of humanity, with sustainable international governance ensuring their preservation as well as their exceptional and appropriate use, in order to enable future generations of scientists to carry out unprecedented analyses.
Unite glaciologists of the world
As part of the ICE MEMORY project, a team of French, Italian, Russian and American researchers carried out the first ice archive drilling operation on the Col du Dôme glacier in the Mont Blanc massif, in August 2016. This mission represented the first stage in demonstrating the feasibility of the "ice core archive" project. Following successful completion of the operation, the team is set to carry out a second ice archive drilling operation on the Illimani glacier in Bolivia, in June 2017.
The consortium does not intend to stop at that. It hopes to unite the international community of glaciologists in order to carry out at least another ten or so drilling missions at various glaciers around the world, both those of scientific interest and those threatened by climate change.
The inaugural ICE MEMORY conference is due to be organised on 8-10 March 2017, under the patronage of the French national commission of UNESCO. It is set to mark the internationalisation of the program, with fifteen American, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, Swedish, Japanese, German, Swiss, Italian and French scientists specialising in the study of ice cores due to attend.
ICE MEMORY, a collaborative model
The project is equally jointly financed by the provision of human resources and equipment from partner scientific organisations and by private sponsorship, through the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation. Companies, foundations and private individuals are therefore joining forces to ensure that this adventure, this responsibility we all share, can be pursued.
2015: Launch of the ICE MEMORY project
2016: First drilling operation at Col du Dôme, France
February 2017: Patronage of the French national commission of UNESCO and the Italian national commission of UNESCO
March 2017: International launch at UNESCO Paris
May-June 2017: Illimani mission in Bolivia 2018-2019: Analysis of ice cores and creation of a reference database
2020: Creation of the snow cave at Concordia station, Antarctica
2021: Transport and storage of the first ice cores for archiving
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