in search of lost climates

During the summer of 2015, a team of scientists and cavers explored caves in Northeast Greenland to collect samples of calcite. The analysis of these fragments is already helping researchers to anticipate how our climate may change in the coming centuries.


Northeast Greenland Caves Project ©Robbie ShoneIn Northeast Greenland, exploring the calcite caves to help us understand climate change required rope access expertise.

On July 20, 2015, Gina Moseley and Christoph Spötl, researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, landed on the shores of Lake Centrum Sø, in the region of Kronprins Christian Land. They had very little information about the most northern caves on the planet. In 1960, an American expedition described a dozen caves located in a limestone bench at an altitude of between 490 and 670 meters. Additional knowledge was gained during a geological expedition in 1983 led by the French geologist Jean-François Loubière.

These caves contain calcite formed by runoff water during periods when the climate was much warmer in the Arctic. The analysis of the composition of calcite allows scientists to make precise measurements of the duration of these interglacial periods. It also enables them to better understand the nature of the climate during warmer and wetter periods than today. The data obtained from the study of the calcite is older than the current 128,000 year limit of ice cores from the Greenland icecap.

Reaching the most remote caves on the flanks of bare crumbling cliffs, required the skills of a rope access specialist. Petzl volunteer and expert caver, Chris Blakeley, accompanied the researchers on their Greenland adventure. During this expedition, they found solutions which helped them reach and explore these difficult to access caves.

Northeast Greenland Caves Project ©Robbie Shone

Northeast Greenland Caves Project ©Robbie Shone

Northeast Greenland Caves Project ©Robbie Shone

Northeast Greenland Caves Project ©Robbie Shone

Northeast Greenland Caves Project ©Robbie Shone

After 17 days exploring one of the most isolated regions of the planet, the expedition team had managed to collect a surprising number of rock samples. They are currently being analyzed, and results so far are promising. The fragments of the oldest calcite collected this summer were more than 570,000 years old. Gina Moseley, who set up the expedition, discovered that climate cycles revealed by calcite coincided with existing data from the Greenland ice cores. This discovery has proved that the study of calcite in Greenland can provide useful climate data for a period of almost 600,000 years.

Paleoclimatologist Gina Moseley, says:

Gina Moseley, paléoclimatologiste, Northeast Greenland Caves Project ©Robbie Shone“The initial results look very promising, and we already know that we can build up a climate record that covers a time period which extends beyond the current limit of the Greenland ice cores. Building on our knowledge of climate change in the Arctic will be important for us to make better predictions for what will happen in the future.”

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Updated in February 2016


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