Hydrology, Cryosphere & Earth Surface Meeting Report

Developments in Ice Core Research on Past Climate Change

IPICS 2016 Open Science Conference; Hobart, Australia, 7–11 March 2016

By and Bradley R. Markle

Knowledge of past climate dynamics improves our understanding of the current climate system. Ice cores are one of the primary archives of climate history: they provide high-resolution environmental records that can span hundreds of thousands of years.

International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences (IPICS) is the main planning organization of the international ice core community. The 2016 IPICS Open Science Conference brought together ice core scientists from around the world to present their work, discuss future projects, and confer on developing technologies. Ice core research requires significant international cooperation because of the massive technical and logistical effort involved. The conference aimed to promote such international coordination by fostering communication and identifying scientific priorities.

Conference attendees presented research on novel interpretation of proxies and on hypotheses emerging from ice core records. They also presented the first scientific results for several major ice core projects. Targets of new research include coastal sites in Greenland, with the aim of understanding the coastal climate and changes in Arctic sea ice.

In Antarctica, other major projects that involve drilling on coastal domes are investigating the stability of Antarctica’s ice sheets and ice shelves through different climate states. A project in West Antarctica has produced climate and greenhouse gas records from the past 70,000 years, whereas a project from Antarctica’s Aurora Basin North is investigating climate variability over the past 2000 years. A new project is underway to recover a 40,000-year record of climate and atmospheric composition at the South Pole.

Locating and drilling ice that is at least 1 million years old is a high priority for the ice core community. Previously retrieved records from Antarctica stretch back to 800,000 years ago, but an unexplained shift in the periodicity and amplitude of ice age cycles approximately 1 million years ago makes older ice a compelling scientific target. Model inferences suggest that ice as old as 1.5 million years exists deep within the Antarctic ice sheet; participants presented promising locations and new drilling technologies.

Access to this million-year-old ice and other high-interest targets could be made faster and more efficient using the emerging rapid-access ice drilling technologies discussed at the meeting. These technologies are designed to penetrate several kilometers of ice in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months as in traditional systems. They would also enable the sampling of underlying bedrock geology, as well as in situ analysis along the way in some cases. Field trials for these systems are in progress.

Discussions also covered the interpretation of ice cores to quantitatively constrain our knowledge of climate–ice sheet interactions on various timescales and in different climate states. Collectively, all of these ice core records contain valuable information for assessing the ability of climate models to simulate past, present, and future climate change.

Before the main conference, Ice Core Young Scientists held a 1-day workshop for early-career researchers. More than 85 people attended the event—about 40% of the IPICS conference delegation. These young scientists attended talks, a panel discussion on the future of ice coring research, and a workshop on effective public communication. They also had an opportunity to network and establish connections within a thriving young scientist community.


The IPICS 2016 meeting was hosted in Hobart by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE-CRC). Major funding and support was provided by AAD, ACE-CRC, Past Global Changes, the Science Committee on Antarctic Research, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the European Science Foundation Descartes Prize.

Author Information

Benoit S. Lecavalier, Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada; email: [email protected]; and Bradley R. Markle, Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle

Citation: Lecavalier, B. S., and B. R. Markle (2016), Developments in ice core research on past climate change, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO060145. Published on 04 October 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0