CU studies climates of the past by examining ancient ice

These ice cores might help settle the modern debate about global warming.

BOULDER - Tuesday wasn’t a normal August day at The Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, AKA the INSTAAR laboratory, on the CU Boulder campus.

“We’re at about two degrees Fahrenheit,” explains Ph.D. student Will Skorski. “Typically we’re at minus 12, minus 13Fahrenheit, so it’s nice and warm today.”

Will is grabbing some meter-long ice cores out of a freezer to analyze in the lab. He’s fully armored with a parka down to his knees.

Stepping out of the freezer and losing his giant parka, Will is joined by undergraduate student Casey Vanderheyden.

“We’re collecting data to be used for atmospheric research,” explains Casey.

The two students melt the ice, and run the water through a series of machines, which isolate the water from the core of the ice, and turn it into vapor. The air trapped inside the ice cores acts like a time capsule of the Earth’s atmosphere. That allows the team to see what the CO2 and methane levels were at the time the ice formed.

These ice core samples range from 50,000, to as old as 800,000 years old. Casey explains why these almost ancient ice cores are important to scientists today as she monitors a graph filled computer screen.

“We can use this understanding of how temperatures changed in the past to understand how it’s changing currently and how it will change in the future.”

“We’re flowing very well,” notes Will, while watching the ice water flow through a series of tubes, analysis machines, and computers.

The work being done by this team will help climate change scientists for years to come. This pair of Buffs wouldn’t trade in their freezer, parkas and ice cores for anything on this August afternoon.

“Yea, we’re looking good,” says Will. “We’re looking just peachy,” agrees Casey.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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