420,000 years of ice core data from Vostok, Antarctica research station. From bottom to top: * Solar variation at 65°N due to en: Milankovitch cycles (connected to 18O). They spent two nights at each site, first collecting radar data and secondly collecting a 15 m shallow ice core. This schematic cross section of an ice sheet shows an ideal drilling site at the centre of the polar plateau near the ice divide, with ice flowing away from the ice divide in all direction. The large Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have huge, high plateaux where snow accumulates in an ordered fashion. The team were travelling across the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to study snow accumulation. Through analysis of ice cores, scientists learn about glacial-interglacial cycles, changing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and climate stability over the last 10,000 years. This picture shows a traversing field camp from December 2010. From top to bottom: * Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). High rates of snow accumulation provide excellent time resolution, and bubbles in the ice core preserve actual samples of the world’s ancient atmosphere.
Shallow ice cores (100-200 m long) are easier to collect and can cover up to a few hundred years of accumulation, depending on accumulation rates. Deeper cores require more equipment, and the borehole must be filled with drill fluid to keep it open. The drill fluid used is normally a petroleum-derived liquid like kerosene. It must have a suitable freezing point and viscosity. Collecting the deepest ice cores (up to 3000 m) requires a (semi)permanent scientific camp and a long, multi-year campaign. If we want to reconstruct past air temperatures, one of the most critical parameters is the age of the ice being analysed.