Australian team sets off on Antarctica mission to drill for ‘oldest ice core ever obtained’ – The Guardian

Expedition will traverse 1,200km in harsh conditions with the aim of collecting million-year-old ice to learn about climate change
Australian researchers have set off on their most ambitious polar expedition in two decades, aiming to drill down into million-year-old ice to learn about climate change.
A convoy of five specially designed tractor trains intends to traverse 1,200km to Little Dome C in Antarctica, where – if successful – they will set up a camp for scientists to start drilling as early as next summer.
The team of 10, which includes a field leader, glaciologist, doctor, engineers and mechanics, began their journey from Casey research station in East Antarctica on 23 December.
They are travelling at about 10km/h and are set to face temperatures potentially as low as -50C, changing ice conditions and challenging terrain.
The tractors are pulling sleds containing living quarters and equipment.
Scientists hope to ultimately drill down about 2.8km to retrieve cores from ice that is more than 1m years old.
Little Dome C, the site of the ice core, is 3,230 metres above sea level.
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Researchers will analyse air bubbles trapped in the cores to help inform what scientists understand about the climate system’s stability over the past 1m years.
The mission should also help scientists make predictions about the future and shed light on why the ice age cycle changed from 41,000 years to 100,000 years about 1m years ago.
The environment and water minister, Tanya Plibersek, hailed the mission as “one of the most significant Antarctic science endeavours ever undertaken”.
“The departure of the traverse team is a major milestone in the million-year ice core project,” she said.
“The effort of this team and their summer expedition will provide the logistical support for Australia to drill and return the ice core for climate research.
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“If successful, it will be the oldest ice core ever obtained.”
Ice cores are like “pages in a climate diary” containing chemicals and air bubbles that revealed changes in the atmosphere and climate, Plibersek said.
“Understanding our planet’s climate history provides us with invaluable knowledge to help guide us in the future.”
The team managed to travel 37km before they sat down to a dinner of roast turkey and pudding cooked in their mobile kitchen on Christmas Day.
On Boxing Day, they travelled 105km over 10 hours in good weather conditions.
The expedition is expected to take more than a month, with the team due to return to Casey station in early February.

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