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Lund geologist searches for the world’s oldest ice

The hunt for the world’s oldest ice will soon begin. The objective is to drill more than three kilometres down into the Antarctic ice cap to retrieve ice up to 1.5 million years old. Using techniques such as radionuclide analysis on the ancient ice, researchers hope to be able to improve future climate forecasts.
Photo: Raimund Muscheler
Photo: Raimund Muscheler

The project, Beyond Epica –oldest ice, is an EU-funded collaboration between 14 European institutions and universities. Quaternary geologist Raimund Muscheler at Lund University’s Faculty of Science has a key role in the hunt for the world’s oldest ice.

He and his team are to measure the radionuclides 10Be and 36Cl, which are natural radioactive isotopes. 10Be is the most stable radioisotope in the element beryllium, with a half-life of around 1.3 million years. 36Cl is the radioactive isotope in the element chlorine, with a half-life of 300 000 years.

“If we find ice which is more than a million years old, we can establish its age thanks to the fact that levels of 10Be and in particular 36 Cl have dropped significantly,” says Raimund Muscheler.   

The researchers expect the analyses to reveal what the climate was like and what processes determined the climate over a million years ago, for example the presence of greenhouse gases.

“Hopefully, better understanding of the climate system will lead to suitable measures being taken to avoid major climate change”, says Raimund Muscheler.

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