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Department of Earth Sciences


Cambridge Earth Sciences and the British Antarctic Survey will be at the 2024 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, talking all about how we’re unlocking the past using ice cores from Antarctica.

This annual event is a free, interactive experience for anyone curious about the latest advances in science and technology. With more than 300 scientists and 14 flagship exhibits, there’s something for everyone. And if you can’t make it in person, there will be plenty of online content including livestream demos and interviews!

Researchers from the University and British Antarctic Survey will be showcasing how, by unlocking the past, we can understand and determine the future.

The ice cores team explain how bubbles of air trapped in ice can unlock the secrets of the past. BAS.

Unlocking the Past

Beneath the surface of Antarctica lies a pristine record of the ancient atmosphere. By drilling down thousands of  metres into the ice sheet we can recover samples of ice from nearly one million years ago. The bubbles trapped in the ice are tiny bottles of ancient air. We use them to determine how greenhouse gases have changed in the past. We can also use the ice that entombs this air to understand how the temperature has changed over time.

 Understanding the Present

Ice core data suggests that in the past some parts of the Antarctic ice sheet suddenly became unstable over just a few centuries.

Scientists are doing research to see if the same processes are happening today. There is evidence that parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be reaching a tipping point, beyond which irreversible melting could occur. This could dramatically raise global sea levels affecting millions of people.

 Determining the Future

What we learn from ice cores about the past informs us about the changes we may see in the future.

Our choices and actions today will have a huge impact on how climate change will unfold in the coming decades.

The more we limit climate change, the less likely we are to reach tipping points, lose Antarctic ice and raise sea levels.