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New Antarctic Ice Core Breaks U.S. Record

Researchers are celebrating the recovery of the longest ice core ever drilled by United States scientists, and the second-longest in world history.

The 10,928-foot (3,331-meter)-long ice core (a narrow cylinder drilled vertically from ice) was drilled over the course of five years at an isolated field camp in a stormy region of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. [Related: The Coldest Places on Earth .]

The Russians hold the record for the longest ice core 12,142 feet (3,701 meters) drilled in the 1990s at Vostok Station in East Antarctica. The previous U.S. record-holder was drilled in Greenland .

Retrieved from an area known as the WAIS Divide, the newly recovered core contains climate data stretching back 100,000 years, reported the Antarctic Sun, a publication of the National Science Foundation.

Climate scientists say the WAIS Divide core promises to offer a particularly "high-resolution" record of the past 40,000 years, meaning they could see details of past climates not discernable in other climate records .

The layers of ice that accumulate each year in places such as Greenland and Antarctica trap a unique signature of atmospheric ingredients, and because the layers of this ice core are particularly thick, they will be fodder for years or even decades of environmental and climate research.

"It is the most detailed record from Antarctica covering a long time period," Ed Brook, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University, who is studying the greenhouse gas concentrations in the WAIS Divide core told the Antarctic Sun.

The core contains data on worldwide climate conditions that include the transitions into and out of the last glacial period a time when ice sheets covered huge swaths of the northern and southern hemispheres and concentrations of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide were much lower than today's high of 390 parts per million.

The detailed record trapped inside the WAIS Divide core will help scientists probe the relationship between carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature changes.

Although the core is now complete, work will continue at the field site for two more seasons. Scientists will send instruments down into the borehole left by the removal of the core to collect volcanic ash and other samples from the ice, and may continue to drill deeper into the ancient ice if conditions allow.

"We are hoping to get as long a record as possible from this site, and getting all of the ice we planned on this year will allow the science community do the work that they are funded to do," Julie Palais, program manager for Antarctic Glaciology at the NSF's Office of Polar Programs told the Antarctic Sun.

"Drilling the ice core is just the first step in the process, albeit a very important one," Palais said.

Live Science Staff
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