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Ancient Ice May Hold Key to Future Climate

April 22, 2006|From Reuters

TOKYO — A million-year-old ice sample drilled from nearly 2 miles under the Antarctic and unveiled in Tokyo this week could yield vital clues on climate change, Japanese scientists said.

Researchers, showing off the cylindrical samples of what they said was the oldest ice ever to be retrieved, said that studying air trapped in core samples from various depths could help predict how Earth's weather patterns will change.

"The ice core is made up of snow that fell in the distant past," said project leader Hideaki Motoyama of the National Institute of Polar Research, dressed in a parka after unveiling the gleaming ice Tuesday in a room kept at minus 4 degrees. "You can use it to examine changes in temperature, levels of carbon dioxide and methane over time -- information that is only available from the core."

Researchers at the Dome Fuji base in the eastern Antarctic spent more than two years on the delicate operation of drilling into the ice sheet, coming up with the million-year-old samples in January and shipping them to Japan on an icebreaker.

Research based on a previous study of Antarctic ice and published by the journal Nature last year said concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane were far higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

The Japanese team also is hoping the ice samples will yield opportunities to study the evolution of tiny organisms trapped in the ice. "The environment there is very harsh ... so we don't know if life can be sustained," Motoyama said. "But we believe we will find organisms."

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