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ICE MEMORY, preserving ice memory for future generations

Creation of a heritage of non-polar ice cores in Antarctica and Analysis of the anthropogenic nature of climate change.

The Ice Memory program, supported by UNESCO, aims to provide, now and in decades and centuries to come, ice samples and reference data necessary for scientific advancements and political decisions in the fight against climate change. The aim is, on the one hand, to create in Antarctica a repository of ice cores from glaciers currently in danger of degradation or disappearance, and, on the other hand, to analyze the anthropogenic nature of climate change.

Ice, an invaluable witness in measuring climate change

The ice from mountain glaciers holds a wealth of information about past changes in the climate and the environment: variations in temperature, greenhouse gas and pollutant concentrations, etc. For many decades, non-polar ice cores1 have enabled the recent climate to be studied closely..

Non-polar ice cores have enabled a unique look at how pollution has increased over the last century, highlighting regional disparities and characterizing the origin of this pollution.

Unfortunately, in certain regions of the world, we are observing the inexorable melting of glaciers, and these extremely fragile frozen archives are now at risk. Their quality is being affected by global warming, and eventually, they will simply disappear altogether.

Without this initiative, the scientific innovations of tomorrow will be useless, because the raw material – ice – will no longer be available or will be definitively altered.
© Grenoble Alpes University Foundation
Illimani, Bolivia © Grenoble Alpes University Foundation

An archive of non-polar ice

The aim of this project is therefore to create a repository of non-polar glacial cores in Antarctica. For each glacier selected, two or three cores are drilled down to the bedrock. The international Ice Memory team plans to drill around twenty glaciers over the next two decades, with initial cores being drilled in France, Bolivia and Russia. One "heritage" core is analyzed to try and understand climate change using current means and establish a reference database. The coordinators of Ice Memory hope to preserve the heritage cores in a cave dug into the snow at the Franco-Italian Concordia base in Antarctica, a natural freezer at -54 °C. These cores will be used as a raw material for scientific research, in the fields of climate, environment or perhaps health care, by future generations based on the progress made with scientific analyses.

Col du Dôme - Massif du Mont Blanc - France
4,350 m above sea level

Illimani - Andes - Bolivia
6,300 m above sea level

Elbrus - Caucasus - Russia
5,640 m above sea level

average temperature

at the Franco-Italian Concordia base in Antarctica

10 nations

with scientists involved in the program

Reference analyses

One of the cores drilled from each glacier is analyzed to establish a reference database. Within this context, a "Reconstruct'Air" research project is being launched by the ICE3 team from the Environmental Geosciences Institute at Grenoble Alpes University2, under the direction of Patrick Ginot. It involves studying the cycle of nitrogen and sulfur and the biomass combustion sources at regional level. The aim is to reconstruct climate change, determine the stakeholders and the main sources of emissions, and to estimate their impact on health. This data is pooled with another research project supported by the Air Liquide Foundation, Predict'Air.

How the Air Liquide Foundation is participating

The Air Liquide Foundation is contributing €250,000 to the costs of the core drilling missions in Bolivia and Russia, to the acquisition costs for containers for the storage cave in Antarctica and to the purchase of cutting-edge analytical equipment for the reference cores, centralized on the new IGE analytical platform, PANDA3.

1 The ice cylinders obtained by drilling into a glacier have different layers that contain information about the past climate.
2 Mixed research unit of Grenoble Alpes University, CNRS, Grenoble-INP and the Research for Development Institute
3 Plateau Analytique Dédié aux Archives glaciaires (Analytical Platform Dedicated to Glacial Archives)  

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  • Project initiator: Fondation Université Grenoble Alpes
  • Location: Grenoble, Alps (France and Italy), Andes (Bolivia), Caucasus & Altaï (Russia)
  • Years of support: 2016, 2018 & 2019-2022
  • Air Liquide sponsor: Susanne Adolphi & Anne-Laure Lesort, Campus Innovation, Frankfurt & Paris

Discover other projects supported by the Air Liquide Foundation