Glaciers are true sentinels, holders of a wealth of data that helps us understand and trace both climate and environmental events throughout several centuries or even millennia.

With climate change, glaciers are endangered archives. It is essential to safeguard them as they allow us to understand previous environments which will help us anticipate future changes.
Mer de glace Chamonix en 1895
Mer de glace Chamonix en 2019

Glaciers: archives in danger

Scientific data obtained from studying ice cores drilled out of glaciers has substantially contributed to a universal knowledge through the understanding of our climate and environment, providing thus objective data that allows for informed decision-making for the well-being of humankind. In particular, this data provides the international community, via the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), to set the global physical context guiding transition policies needed to be implemented to curb global warming.

Still, glaciers are retreating unrelentingly, practically all over the world. This phenomenon is irreversibly altering the chemical composition of the snow strata, thus destroying the potential of these records forever, along with all hope of reconstructing the history of geochemical signals associated with climate, human activity and the biological evolution of our environment.

By the end of the century, ice-covered areas below 3,500 meters in the Alps, and 5,400 meters in the Andes will probably have disappeared.

In the firm belief that we need to start protecting this invaluable heritage right now, scientists from several nations have decided to collect samples (ice cores) from endangered glaciers so that future generations of researchers may benefit from high-quality raw material and continue to contribute to the environmental and climate science, crucial for the future of humanity.

Understanding past environments to anticipate future change

When drilling down through the glacier to bedrock, each of the layers of snow and ice that we pass through represents the state of the climate and the atmosphere over a successive period of years, and they are the only natural record of it that we have. The deepest layers are also the oldest, dating back from a century to a few millennia. Sometimes, at the base of these glaciers, you can even find layers formed during the Last Glacial Maximum approximately 20,000 years ago.

Analysis of ice cores allows us to reconstruct past changes in the climate, the environment and in particular, the atmospheric composition: temperature variations, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, emissions of natural aerosols or man-made pollutants, etc.

Ice offers a unique insight, especially when it comes to the increase in atmospheric pollution over the past century, by highlighting regional disparities as well as characterizing the origin of that pollution.