South Pole Ice Core

About

Project Overview

The stable isotope, aerosol, and atmospheric gas records in ice cores provide exceptional archives of past climate. Supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, a new 1751-meter long ice core was recovered at the South Pole, extending more than 54,000 years into the past (Winski and others, 2019). The ice core was drilled during the 2014-2015 field season (0 to 736 meters) and 2015-2016 field season (736 to 1751 meters) using the new U.S. Intermediate Depth Drill. The South Pole site preserves unique climate records by combining cold temperatures typical of East Antarctica with a relatively high accumulation rate due to West Antarctic influence. The South Pole ice core extends the international array of ice cores used to investigate environmental change since the last glacial/interglacial transition. The scientific goal is to assess and understand changes in atmospheric chemistry, climate, and biogeochemistry.

Additional Reading

Getting to the Bottom of SPICECORE – Researchers drill deep into the ice beneath the South Pole to sample Earth's ancient atmosphere
The Antarctic Sun
April 12, 2016
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Going deep – Drilling project to retrieve longest ice core ever from South Pole
The Antarctic Sun
March 26, 2015
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Scientists drilling first deep ice core at the South Pole
University of Washington Press Release
January 20, 2015
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SPICE-ing it up – New project plans to retrieve South Pole ice core beginning in 2014-15
The Antarctic Sun
March 8, 2013
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Project Organization

With support from NSF's Office of Polar Programs, UC-Irvine (Aydin–Lead PI; NSF award #1142517), University Washington (Steig; NSF award #1141839), and the University of New Hampshire (Twickler and Souney; NSF award #1142646) – with assistance from NASA-GSFC (Neumann) – provided the overall scientific coordination for the project, which included site selection, field operations, core processing at the NSF Ice Core Facility, data management, and communications/workshops.

Logistical support was provided by NSF's Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics program and was managed by Leah Street with the Antarctic Support Contract (ASC). Drilling support was provided by the U.S. Ice Drilling Program.


South Pole Field Operations

Below is a summary of the major field operations at South Pole.

Field Season Major Activities Documents
2013/14
  • Southbound ASC shipment of drilling fluid via vessel to the Ice
  • Southbound I−164-S shipment of drill casing via vessel to the Ice
  • GPR survey (conducted by ASC) of drill site
  • Preparation of road(s) to drill site
  • Preparation of the areas that will house the generator tent and the warming tent
2014/15
  • Dry drilled to 160 m
  • Cased hole to 130 m
  • Brittle ice handling began at 619 m
  • 580 m of non-brittle core cut, packed, and shipped on 2 cold-deck flights
  • Brittle cores netted and stored in 2-m long cardboard tubes in core storage trench
  • 3 days packing retro cargo and winterizing drill site
2015/16
  • 150 m of previous season’s brittle ice logged and packed
  • Brittle ice handling ended at 1078 m
  • 550 m of ice core shipped on 2 cold-deck flights
  • 616 m of ice remained on site packed in boxes (342 m brittle, 274 m ductile)
  • Fugitive gas sampling
  • 3 days packing retro cargo and winterizing drill site
2016/17
  • Packed and shipped all remaining ice on 2 cold-deck flights
  • Two borehole temperature logs to 1751 m
  • One borehole video log to 1751 m
  • Two borehole dust logs to 1587 m
  • Decommissioned drill site

Funded Projects

The following is a summary of the universities/laboratories that received samples from the South Pole ice core. Over 10,300 samples have been cut to date from the ice core and distributed to sixteen individually-funded NSF investigators from thirteen U.S. institutions for analysis.

State University/Laboratory Measurment Investigator NSF Award Number
CA Univ. California, Irvine Gases Murat Aydin 1443470, 1644245
CA Scripps Inst. Oceanography Gases Jeff Severinghaus 1443710, 1543229
CO Univ. Colorado at Boulder Water isotopes Jim White 1443328
ME Univ. Maine Microparticles Karl Kreutz 1443397
ME Univ. Maine Tephra Andrei Kurbatov 1543361
NH Dartmouth Chemistry Erich Osterberg 1443336
NM New Mexico Inst. Mining and Technology Tephra Nelia Dunbar 1543454
NY Columbia University/LDEO Gases Joerg Schaefer 1443448
NY SUNY at Stony Brook Gases John Mak 1443482
NY Univ. Rochester Gases Vasilli Petrenko 1443267
OR Oregon State Univ. Gases Ed Brook 1643722, 1443472, 1543267, 1443550
PA Pennsylvania State Univ. Physical properties Richard Alley 1542778
PA Pennsylvania State Univ. Gases Todd Sowers 1443464
SD South Dakota State Univ. Chemistry Jihong Cole-Dai 1443663
WA Univ. Washington Water isotopes, cosmogenic radionuclides Eric Steig 1443144, 1443105
WA Univ. Washington Electrical conductivity Ed Waddington 1443232

Site Selection

During FFY 2013, Tom Neumann & Kimberly Casey (NASA-GSFC) and TJ Fudge & Eric Steig (University of Washington) led site selection activities using existing radar, accumulation, ice core, flow velocity, depth-age and surface elevation data. After reviewing the existing glaciological data, and after discussions with NSF and ASC regarding logistical considerations, a drill site for the South Pole ice core was established and approved by NSF in August 2013. The following paper in Annals of Glaciology talks about the site selection:

Casey KA, Fudge TJ, Neumann TA, Steig EJ, Cavitte MGP and Blankenship DD (2014) The 1500 m South Pole ice core: recovering a 40,000 year environmental record. Annals of Glaciology, 55(68), 137-146. https://doi.org/10.3189/2014AoG68A016

Map of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
Figure 1a. Map of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The approximate location of the South Pole ice core drill site is marked with the red circle and labeled 'DRILL SITE'. The drill site is roughly 2.7 km travel distance from Elevated Station. Download graphic
Radar image of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
Figure 1b. Radar image of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The approximate location of the South Pole ice core drill site is marked with the red circle and labeled 'DRILL SITE'. The drill site is roughly 2.7 km travel distance from Elevated Station. Download graphic
Map of drill-site location relative to dark, clean-air, quiet and downwind sectors, existing firn- and ice-core studies, ice flow velocity and prevailing wind direction
Figure 1c. Map of drill-site location relative to dark, clean-air, quiet and downwind sectors, existing firn- and ice-core studies, ice flow velocity and prevailing wind direction. Previous firn- (green) and ice (red)-core retrieval locations are marked on the map, described by reference publications as follows: EMT core (Mosley-Thompson, 1980), Gow core (Kuivinen, 1983) and 2002 firn core (Aydin and others, 2008) Download graphic

The drill site was located in the Dark Sector at roughly 89°59'S, 98°9'W approximately 200 meters perpendicular off the Road to ARA Wind Turbine 3 Test Bed (Figure 1a, 1b and 1c). The site was roughly 2.7 km travel distance from Elevated Station.

During the 2013-2014 field season, ASC conducted a 330 m x 330 m rectangular grid high-frequency ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey centered on 89.98S, 95.10W. The primary motivation for the GPR survey was to assess the potential for buried debris at or near the drilling site from the past ~50 years of station operations. Results indicate smooth and continuous layering, with no obvious disturbances in the upper 15 m on any of the profiles within the drilling area.