A Historical Ice Core from the Heart of Europe

Executive committee

Paul Mayewski Climate Change Institute

Prof. Paul A. Mayewski

Director & Distinguished Maine Professor, Climate Change Institute
School of Earth & Climate Sciences; School of Marine Sciences; School of Policy and International Affairs
University of Maine
Michael McCormick Harvard Science of the Human Past

Prof. Michael McCormick

Chair, Initiative for the Science of the Human Past
Goelet Professor of Medieval History
Co-Director, Max Planck Harvard Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean
Alexander More

Prof. Alexander More

Post-doctoral fellow (History Department, Harvard) - Assistant Research Professor (Climate Change Institute, UMaine)

Alexander More (PhD History & History of Science, Harvard) is a historian whose recent research focuses on the impact of climate change on...

Read more about Alexander More


In 2013, a joint venture of the Climate Change Institute, at the University of Maine, and the Initiative for the Science of the Human Past, at Harvard University, retrieved a 73-meter (240ft) ice core from Colle Gnifetti in the Swiss Alps.  Analysis of the ice core, at the Climate Change Institute, is producing invaluable new data about climate change and human-climate interactions from the last ca. 2,000 years. Concurrently, Harvard historians are combing pre-industrial written records to create a new geo-database of climate events, which complements the scientific data. 

A 7-person team from the Climate Change Institute, the Institut für Umweltphysik, University of Heidelberg (Germany) and the Physics Institute, University of Bern (Switzerland), recovered the ice core over the course of one week at the Colle Gnifetti (CG) glacier saddle of the Monte Rosa Massif (4450 m.a.s.l.).  It will be analyzed using a host of technologies not available when previous CG cores were drilled and featuring a path-breaking collaboration of humanists and scientists.

To this end the University of Maine and Harvard University will contribute ultra-high-resolution measurements of dust and other impurities using state-of-the-art laser based technology developed in the Climate Change Institute’s W. M. Keck Laser Ice Facility at the Climate Change Institute and a new historical geodatabase of the climate of pre-modern Europe from written sources, collected and analyzed at Harvard.

The resulting records will allow the first detailed, ice core-based assessment of human-climate interactions during the last two millennia. The new technology is minimally destructive and will allow the permanent preservation of the new ice core record. The project is supported by a grant from the Arcadia Foundation.

The Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine chronicled and documented the ice-core retrieval operations from the Swiss Alps on this page.

On Nov. 11, 2015, The CCI-SoHP team presented preliminary results at a signature event at Harvard University.

Evaluation of this unique archive will also involve researchers from Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Bremerhaven (Germany) and the Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg (Switzerland), and the University of Nottingham, (U.K.).  


Photos by Nicole Spaulding

Dr. Nicole Spaulding describes how laser ablation extracts ancient
ice particles for mass spectrometry of chemical signals of
climate change from the SoHP Colle Gnifetti Historical Ice Core

With support from:
Arcadia Fund of London
W. M. Keck Foundation                       National Science Foundation


Research Group

Heather Clifford

Heather Clifford

MS student - research assistant
Climate Change Institute, University of Maine

Mark Royer

Ph.D. Candidate
Climate Change Institute, University of Maine