The Race to Save the Earth’s Memory

Race to Save Earth's Memory

What can the Dead Sea Scrolls, Lascaux cave paintings and glacial ice possibly have in common? Each is a priceless record of our collective past.

The ICE MEMORY initiative, spearheaded by the University of Grenoble Alpes Foundation, brings together glaciologists from around the world to form the first ice cores sanctuary in an effort to shed light on a past before humans existed to record it. This makes ice cores collected by the ICE MEMORY project as valuable as any book, drawing or object in any museum, anywhere.

Imagine if all the art treasures housed in the Louvre in Paris were slowly deteriorating. What if entire collections at the Library of Congress were evaporating before scholars could catalog them? Now imagine the clues to climate change and the future of mankind melting away as glaciers retreat.

This is happening with the glaciers of the high Andes, Alps and other locations, and the ICE MEMORY team is now racing against the clock.

Why glacial ice…and why now? Glacial ice is the earth’s memory. With it we can analyze atmospheric conditions from thousands of years ago, and this is key in understanding human impact on warming and to the very beginnings of life on earth. That same warming possibly explained by ice core research is behind the sense of urgency – we simply must record these memories before they melt away.

What’s happening? A team of French, Italian, Russian and American researchers are collecting ice cores and storing them in an ice cave in the High Antarctic Plateau, for now the most reliable – and natural – freezer in the world. The researchers will rely on high-performance ion chromatography systems and mass spectrometers from Thermo Fisher Scientific to analyze these ice cores.

What might we learn? This field is new, but researchers believe we can learn much from the ice. Locked inside snow layers are solid particles and living organisms suspended in time, including bacteria and viruses. Scientists believe that advanced instruments available now will soon enable them to study the change in the genomes of bacteria or viruses over time, and potentially leading to medical advances. Other obvious insights locked inside the ice are the much-debated effects of humans on the planet.

To learn more about the ICE MEMORY initiative, visit the University of Grenoble Alpes Foundation, or UNESCO.