Fossils in a Forgotten Ice Core Rewrite Greenland’s Icy Past


The secret navy plan by no means occurred—engineers rapidly realized how quickly and unpredictably the ice can shift, making the location extremely unstable and wholly unsuitable for nuclear weapons. Colgan, the challenge supervisor for the Camp Century Climate Monitoring Program, is certainly one of a handful of people that have been to the location of the previous Army set up, now buried underneath greater than 100 toes of collected snow and ice. “The tunnels are collapsed and compressed,” he says. “The snow has turned to ice with pancakes of debris.”

Camp Century was deserted in 1967, simply a 12 months after its engineers managed a true scientific feat: drilling the primary ice cores. Together with newer cores from Antarctica and elsewhere in Greenland, these slim cylinders of ice present a essential file of historic local weather circumstances that researchers have since used each to know our previous and mannequin our future. Colgan says Camp Century has been invaluable for science, now greater than ever.

“Camp Century was the first ice core program, and we’re still learning from it,” Colgan says, including that the Cold War–period group most likely realized the location’s unsuitability as a missile base very early in their work, however persevered in the title of science. The subglacial pattern, he says, “only exists because they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They punched all the way into the bedrock and even then kept going.”

Some of the mile-long Camp Century ice core had been beforehand studied. After being collected in 1966, nevertheless, the subglacial core pattern—about 12 toes of frozen mud and bedrock from beneath the ice—was saved in an Army lab freezer, then on the University of Buffalo. The pattern was ultimately despatched to Denmark, the place it languished but once more, on the University of Copenhagen’s ice core archive.

In 2017, as employees ready to improve the power, somebody observed unopened packing containers of Camp Century core samples. Inside, reasonably than the slim cylinders typical of ice cores, they discovered glass jars of subglacial rock and clumps of frozen sediment. Almost instantly, the discover grew to become a sensation in the sphere. Getting a comparable subglacial pattern in the present day utilizing fashionable drilling expertise would have been prohibitively costly.

“We knew how important these samples would be. All of us started shaking and even drooling a bit,” says Schaefer. As phrase of the samples unfold, he flew to Copenhagen with University of Vermont geologist Paul Bierman in hopes of negotiating for a number of the materials. “We were trying not to let them see how excited we were. We just tried to keep it together.”

Subglacial materials, collected from the place the drill hit sediment and bedrock beneath the ice sheet, comprises info the ice doesn’t. Exposed rock, like every part else on Earth’s floor, will get bombarded with cosmic rays, producing chemical signatures, known as cosmogenic nuclides, that can be utilized to ascertain whether or not, and when, an space was ice-free. “The nuclides are only produced if the rock sees open sky,” Schaefer says. The work of relationship the fabric is “really, really hard,” says Colgan, however the Camp Century pattern has been initially dated, with confidence, as lower than a million years previous, lining up with the beforehand studied pattern from central Greenland.

Christ, Schaefer, and their colleagues proceed to investigate the Camp Century materials to slim its age vary and study extra in regards to the plant materials it preserved, which is exclusive, since huge ice deposits often destroy natural materials. The subsequent part of analysis, already underway, contains trying to find traces of DNA that could possibly be used to find out the species current, and even reconstruct your complete ecosystem. So far it seems just like fashionable Arctic tundra.

There’s but extra to the Camp Century core to discover. The very backside layers of the pattern embrace sediment that could be as much as three million years previous, Christ says, and will embrace extra natural matter that could possibly be “the oldest material ever recovered from under the ice.”

Camp Century could by no means have hosted nuclear weapons, however it’s proving to be much more vital than even its planners imagined.

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