Within them sits some 80,000 years of history, offering researchers tantalising clues about climate change and the Earth’s past. At least that was the case – until the precious cache of Arctic ice cores was hit by warming temperatures.
A freezer malfunction at the University of Alberta in Edmonton has melted part of the world’s largest collection of ice cores from the Canadian Arctic, reducing some of the ancient ice into puddles.
“For every ice-core facility on the planet, this is their No1 nightmare,” said glaciologist Martin Sharp.
The ice cores – long cylinders extracted from glaciers – contain trapped gasses and particles that offer a glimpse into atmospheric history.
“When you lose part of an ice core,” Sharp said, “you lose part of the record of past climates, past environments – an archive of the history of our atmosphere. You just don’t have easy access to information about those past time periods.”
The university had recently acquired the dozen cores, or 1.4km (0.9 miles) of ice, drilled from five locations in the Canadian Arctic, and carefully transported them from Ottawa to Edmonton.