News Release

High-resolution geophysical survey confirms the deep Beyond EPICA ice-core drilling site

Reports and Proceedings

Università Ca' Foscari Venezia

The Drilling Site

image: Figure 1. Top left panel: map of Antarctica showing the Dome C region (black rectangle). Top right panel: map of the Dome C region showing the ice core drilling area at Little Dome C (LDC) in the rectangle. Bottom panel: detailed map of the bedrock topography in the LDC area based on the new BE-OI results. LDC is located 40 km southwest of Concordia Station. The vertical white arrow indicates the most promising potential drilling site, as identified during the 2017-18 survey. Subglacial lake extent (dark blue) was inferred by high bed reflectivity and a flat radar reflection, and has been interpolated to give an impression of the extent and depth of lakes below the ice surface. view more 

Credit: Beyond EPICA

In the context of the European Union project Beyond EPICA - Oldest Ice Core: 1.5 Myr of greenhouse gas - climate feedback (Beyond EPICA), experts from 12 institutions in ten European countries coordinated by Prof. Carlo Barbante from the Ca' Foscari University of Venice and the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council of Italy (ISP-CNR) in Venice, have finally confirmed the site for future ice core drilling operations in East Antarctica. This final step follows the previous EU project, led by Prof. Olaf Eisen from the Alfred Wegner Institute (AWI) in Germany. The drill site is located at Little Dome C (LDC), an area of about 10 km2, 40 km away from Concordia Station at Dome C, the Italian-French base on the high Antarctic Plateau. Dome C is 1000 km from the coast, at an altitude of 3233 m above sea level, and is run by IPEV and the PNRA, the French and Italian polar agencies.

On 1st June 2019 the Beyond EPICA project started with the aim of drilling for and recovering ice from up to 1.5 Million years ago in Antarctica. The previous EPICA project recovered 800,000 years old ice. We want to go BEYOND that. "We hope that this core will give us information on the Antarctic climate and the greenhouse gases present during the Middle Pleistocene Transition (MPT), which occurred between 900,000 and 1.2 Million years ago", says Carlo Barbante, coordinator of the project. "During this period the climatic periodicity transitioned from 41,000 to 100,000 years between ice ages. Why this change happened is the mystery we want to resolve."

With this goal in mind, the LDC area was selected after an initial period of coordinated actions, including more than 4,000 km of airborne and ground-based Radar Echo Sounding (RES) survey and basal temperature assessment based on vertical velocity and temperature measurements. All measurements were interpreted within a temperature and age modelling framework. These actions were performed in the frame of the previous EU project, led by researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Institut des Géosciences de l'Environnement (IGE) Over the last weeks, researchers from an international team composed of scientists from AWI, University of Copenhagen (UCPH) and the University of Alabama (UA) have finally scanned the area of interest and a group of experts precisely selected the exact site for drilling operations during the 2020-21 field season. Here, the characteristics of the deeper layers, with ice of least 1.5 million years old should be preserved with a good temporal resolution.

"It is the first time that a site for deep drilling has been selected with such a high precision and effort. The new radar measurement showed more clearly than before, that the ice there is well stratified and most probably very old", says Olaf Eisen (AWI).


The whole project Beyond EPICA - Oldest Ice Core has been funded with a 11 million € grant by the European Commission and will take 6 years in total to drill, collect and analyse the ice from this very deep hole, if everything goes to plan.

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