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Protecting ice memory

Studying glacier ice allows us to anticipate future climate changes. However, with the glaciers retreating at such a fast rate, this scientific resource could disappear in the next couple of centuries. The Petzl Foundation is currently providing support to create a world glacier ice archive for future generations of scientists.

MARCH 2017

The first mission to collect high mountain glacier ice core samples was conducted in August 2016 in France. A team of French, Italian, Russian, and American researchers, led by the Université Grenoble Alpes Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics Laboratory (LGGE), set up their base camp at 4,300m, on the Col du Dôme Glacier alongside the normal route to the summit of Mont Blanc.

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Ice core sampling in August 2016 on the Col de Dôme Glacier

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Over a two-week period, three 130m-long ice cores were extracted one meter at a time. Placed in isothermal containers, they are currently being stored in a freezer warehouse near Grenoble. The LGGE will analyze the first core sample to establish an initial database to be made available to all scientists. The two other core samples will find a permanent home in 2020 in a -54°C "natural freezer" at the Franco-Italian base in Concordia, Antarctica, where they will be stored for scientific research for centuries to come.

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Glaciers entrap small air bubbles and impurities that allow us to understand atmospheric composition over hundreds of years. This is how glaciologists were able to establish the connection between the increase in greenhouse gases and the rise in global temperatures. Mont Blanc's glaciers enable researchers to study pollution and industrial activity over a period of one hundred years. "In future decades or even centuries, this glacier ice archive will prove extremely valuable for new scientific discoveries or to better understand local changes in the environment," highlights Nobel Peace Prize winner Jean Jouzel, climatologist, former Vice Chair of the IPCC's scientific committee from 2002 to 2015. With the emergence of new techniques, researchers hope to be able to study virus and bacteria mutations trapped in the ice.

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The Col du Dôme Glacier represents the project's first stage, which started in 2015 under the auspices of the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation. A longer and more complex second mission will start in 2017 on the Illimani Glacier in the Bolivian Andes.

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Uploaded in March 2017


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