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
SELECTED PUBLICATIONS FROM THIS PROJECT
Alexander More et al., "The role of historical context in understanding past climate, pollution and health data in trans-disciplinary studies," GeoHealth (AGU), 2, 162-170 (2018), DOI:10.1029/2017GH000121.
Pascal Bohleber et al., "Temperature and mineral dust variability recorded in two low-accumulation Alpine ice cores over the last millennium," Climate of the Past, 14, 21-37 (2018), https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-14-21-2018
Nicole Spaulding et al., "A New Multielement Method for LA-ICP-MS Data Acquisition from Glacier Ice Cores," Environmental Science and Technology, 51.22, 13282–13287 (2017) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b03950
Alexander More, et al., "Next Generation Ice Core Technology Reveals True Minimum Natural Levels of Lead (Pb) in the Atmosphere: Insights from the Black Death," GeoHealth (AGU), 1, 211-219 (2017) (DOI: 10.1002/2017GH000064)
Matthew Luongo et al., Possible Icelandic Tephra Found in European Colle Gnifetti Glacier, G-Cubed (AGU), 18.11 (2017) (DOI: 10.1002/2017GC007022)
Sharon Sneed et al., "New LA-ICP-MS cryocell and calibration technique for sub-millimeter analysis of ice cores," Journal of Glaciology, 61.226, 233-242 (2015) doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J139.
NEWS COVERAGE OF THIS PROJECT'S GROUNDBREAKING DISCOVERIES
"We've been poisoning ourselves for the last 2000 years," The Guardian.
"A 14th-century plague helped reveal just how long humans have polluted the planet," Popular Science Magazine.
"An ice core reveals how profoundly the Black Death change society," Forbes Magazine.
"Humans Polluted the Air Much Earlier than Previously Thought," Smithsonian Magazine.
"L'homme rejette du plomb dans l'atmosphère depuis au moins 2000 ans," Science et Vie.
"Human Activity Has Polluted European Air for 2000 Years," Eos (American Geophysical Union).
"Die Bleizeit," [The Lead Age] Süddeutsche Zeitung.
"Harvard Study Challenges Assumptions of Natural Lead Levels," Harvard Gazette.
"Die größte Wirtschaftskatastrophe der Geschichte," Der Spiegel.
"Die Sünden der Alten," Frankfurter Allgemein.
"Le plomb: une pollution ancienne," Journal de l'Environnement.
"Bleigehalt: Nur die Pest sorgte für saubere Luft," Der Standard.
"Analyse van ijskern onthult de waarheid over lood: "We zijn onszelf al 2.000 jaar aan het vergiftigen" [Analysis of ice core reveals the truth about lead: we've been poisoning ourselves for the last 2000 years] De Morgen.
"The Science of History," Harvard Magazine, March-April 2016.
"Climate Data Suggests Famine Worsened the Black Death," Archaeology, January 07, 2016.
"Did Climate Change Worsen the Black Death," Harvard Gazette, January 5, 2016.
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