A Historical Ice Core from the Heart of Europe

In August 2013, a new ice core was drilled ~73 m to bedrock at the Colle Gnifetti (CG) glacier saddle of the Monte Rosa Massif (4450 m.a.s.l.) on the Swiss-Italian border led by researchers from the Institut für Umweltphysik, University of Heidelberg (Germany) and the Physics Institute, University of Bern (Switzerland).

Evaluation of this unique archive will also involve researchers from the Initiative for the Science of the Human Past at Harvard and the Climate Change Institute, University of Maine (USA), Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Bremerhaven (Germany) and the Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg (Switzerland).  

A 7-person team recovered the ice core over the course of one week.  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 and a new historical geodatabase of the climate of pre-modern Europe from written sources.

The resulting record 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.

This page provides open access to data generated by chemical analysis of the ice core, as well as a geodatabase of written sources attesting climate events in pre-modern Europe.


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

In the summer of 2015, Matthew Luongo (Harvard College '17) joined Prof. Andrei Kurbatov at the Climate Change Institute (University of Maine) to study volcanic tephra particles contained in the Colle Gnifetti Ice Core.  He discusses his experience in a SoHP blog entry.

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 SoHP-CCI team presented preliminary results at a signature event at Harvard University.