January 16, 2005
The oldest ice ever found has been pulled out of a deep hole in Antarctica to give scientists hints about the weather nearly one million years ago, before the evolution of mankind.
Heinz Miller of Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Oceanographic Rearch AWI, who heads the drilling project, said it had stopped at a depth of 3270 metres as it approached a zone of slush, where the ice had been melted by heat from the Earth's mantle.
The last section of core brought up was about 900,000-years-old, he said. Scientists are using the entire core to write the history of the world's climate. Work began in 1996 on the hole, drilled as part of the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (Epica).
Mr Miller said a second hole, 3000 kilometres away in the frozen continent, was still being drilled and was likely to stop at 2780 metres.
Scientists expect to learn about changes in Atlantic and Pacific ocean currents from the cores.
Mr Miller said that taking the record back 900,000 years had been "as unexpected as it was welcome", since the aim had originally been only to cover 500,000 years. Ten European nations funded the project, in which scientists study dust and the shape of ice crystals to deduce facts about the climate when the ice first formed as snow.
At the earliest period uncovered, modern mammals ruled the earth, but hominids had not yet evolved beyond the Homo erectus stage. These ancestors of modern Homo sapiens were still spreading through Eurasia.
Courtesy : ASOC (Antarctic and south ocean coalition)
wbm, 18 January