Australian scientists have retrieved the latest chapter on the planet’s climate history after travelling to an ice core “library” in Antarctica.

A team of four journeyed to Law Dome, 100 kilometres from Casey research station, where they successfully extracted a 12 metre ice core.

Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) Glaciologist Dr Lenneke Jong said the region had provided scientists with valuable records since the 1980s.

“Law Dome plays a key role in research on the Earth’s climate. If you think about it as a library, drilling a core is like taking a book off the shelf,” Dr Jong said.

“The ice cores contains tiny trapped bubbles of air, trace chemicals and particles, which provide an insight into the past.

“By recovering shallow cores, we’re able to look back over recent years and see how this information overlaps with meteorological data.”

AAD Ice core research scientist Dr Andrew Moy said repeat visits to Law Dome have significantly improved the calibration of ice core records against weather and satellite data.

“This allows for a better understanding of recent climate variability and change,” Dr Moy said.

Dome sweet dome

But conditions out in the field were far from easy, with 25 knot winds keeping the team on their toes.

It took a few cups of tea, sandwiches and six hours to remove the prized piece of ice.

Once safely secured, the cores were transported to Australia by the Royal Australian Air Force on a C-17A Globemaster.

“This capability makes a huge difference to the project and the Australian Antarctic program. Previously ice cores were returned to Australia by ship, which significant delayed getting the cores into the lab,” Dr Moy said.

Slice and dice

The cores will now be ‘sliced and diced’ in the freezer at the AAD Ice Core laboratories in Tasmania.

“This involves cutting the ice cores into sticks and individual sub-samples. The ice core sticks are further prepared for ‘trace chemistry’ analysis under clean conditions,” Dr Moy said.

“In the analytical laboratories, sub-samples are melted and then analysed for trace chemistry, water isotopes, and other glaciochemical parameters.”

AAD Chief Scientist Prof Nicole Webster joined the Law Dome team on her first trip south since joining the AAD.

“The challenging cold and windy conditions at Law Dome, combined with some technical issues with the drill, only increased our elation when we finally extracted the last one metre of core needed to achieve an overlap in the climate record,” Prof Webster said.

“Ice core research is a major focus at the AAD because understanding past climate enables us to validate the climate models that can help predict Earth’s future climate.”