A team of scientists at the University of Bern (Switzerland) has launched Oldest Air. The goal of this project is to analyze air samples from the oldest sheets of ice on the planet. Led by Professor Thomas Stocker and Hubertus Fischer from the Climate and Environmental Physics department, the team will head to Antarctica to extract layers of ice that are 1.2 million years old. Such ice carries unique information on climate changes in the past and may solve one of the great mysteries: Why did the pace of the ice age cycles slow down by a factor of 2.5 about 1 million years ago?
The team’s research will be crucial in helping us understand the mechanisms at work in the climate changes of our planet
The Air Liquide Foundation is supporting the project by funding necessary equipment for the development of RADIX (Rapid Access Drill for Ice X-traction), an innovative drill that will reach bedrock three kilometers under the surface of Antarctica in just two weeks.
This depth can be reached in record time thanks to the extremely small diameter of RADIX, only 2 cm. Most drills used to perform core drilling at such depths have a diameter of 12 cm.
The Oldest Air project has two phases. First, the drill will be designed at the University of Bern and tested on two European glaciers. Then, a site will be selected in Antarctica to collect samples under the ice. To date, scientists have been able to identify pockets of air dating back 800,000 years, but Professor Stocker -member of the Intergovernemental Panel on Climate Change - and his team believe that some sites on the continent contain air pockets that date back over a million years.