The North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) project earlier this week reached the bedrock at a depth of exactly 2537.36 metres.
The drill, carried out by a 14 –nation consortium under Danish leadership, had started in 2007 at a site in northern Greenland. More than 300 ice core researchers have since worked at the remote NEEM camp.
On Tuesday, 27 July, lead scientist Dorthe Dahl-Jensen of the University of Copenhagen proudly lifted the last ice core – a sample of ice more than 130,000 years old.
Scientists involved in the project can now begin to study in detail climatic characteristics of the Eemian period 130,000 to 115.00 before present. The Eemian, the second-to-latest interglacial period of the current ice age (the most recent being our own), is thought to be a good analogue to the world’s greenhouse future.
Average global temperature during the Eemian was some 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than at present. Scientists believe that by the end of the 21st century the planet will experience similar conditions again. Over the Greenland ice sheet, temperatures at the height of the Eemian may have been around 5 degrees Celsius warmer – mirroring the Arctic amplification of modern climate change.
By analysing air trapped in the ice core scientists hope to find out how stable, or unstable, the Eemian climate has been. If the climate has then strongly flickered this could point to abrupt, and possibly drastic, climate changes ahead.
The NEEM project may also shed light on the speed and rate of ancient and future sea level change. If the Greenland ice sheet was substantially reduced during the Eemian this would indicate a large contribution from Greenland to the 5 metre sea level rise at the time.
Some scientists believe the present sea level might rise by up to 1 metre by 2100 – but there are large uncertainties concerning the response of ice sheets to warming air and ocean temperatures. Understanding what happened to the Greenland ice sheet during the Eemian could help constrain projections of future sea level rise.
The last 2 metres of the NEEM ice core are of particular interest because they contain ancient rocks and biological material.
“We expect the ice to be rich in DNA and pollen that can tell us about the plants that existed in Greenland before the site became covered with ice, perhaps as long as 3 million years ago,” Dahl-Jensen said in a statement.
First scientific results could be published before the end of the year, she said.