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Researchers are beginning their analysis of what are probably the first successful ice cores drilled to bedrock from a glacier in the eastern European Alps.

With luck, that analysis will yield a record of past climate and environmental changes in the region for several centuries, and perhaps even covering the last 1,000 years.  Scientists also hope that the core contains the remnants of early human activity in the region, such as the atmospheric byproducts of smelting metals.

The project, led by a team of Ohio State University scientists and their European colleagues, retrieved four cores from a glacier high atop Mount Ortles, a 3,905-metre (12,812-feet) peak in northeastern Italy.  Three were 75 metres long (246-feet) and one was 60 metres (197 feet).  They are significant in two ways:


Paolo Gabrielli

First, scientists had previously believed that the glacier was at too low an altitude to contain ice cold enough to have preserved a clear climate record.

While the top one-third of the cores do show that melt water had percolated downwards, possibly affecting the record, the remaining two-thirds of the cores contained unaltered ice from which the research team should be able to retrieve a climate history.

Secondly, since no other ice core analyses have been retrieved from the eastern side of the Alps, this work should paint a much clearer picture of climate change in this portion of Europe.

“This glacier is already changing from the top down in a very irreversible way,” explained expedition leader Paolo Gabrielli, a research scientist at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar Research Center.  “It is changing from a ‘cold’ glacier where the ice is stable to a ‘temperate’ glacier where the ice can degrade.