Ice Cores Reveal History

Ice Cores Reveal History

I received a cordless drill for Christmas last year. Many of its features make my around-the-home projects far easier to accomplish: two batteries (one recharges while I use the other), a keyless chuck for easy changing of bits, an LED work light, a built-in level, and a torque adjustment ring, to name a few. Having the proper tools makes a world of difference in the quality and efficiency with which projects get done.

A team of Chinese scientists has begun the process of providing a new tool to study Earth’s atmosphere and climate over the last one million years or more.1 And their work stands to improve the quality and efficiency of ice age studies.

The frequency of ice ages switched from a 41,000-year cycle to a 100,000-year cycle sometime within the last million years. No one knows for sure why the frequency dropped, but samples of the atmosphere covering this period would provide abundant clues. Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica have done just that-provide samples-because air bubbles were trapped in the ice as it froze. Since a layer of ice is laid down each year, scientists can identify the ages of the air bubbles by counting the layers. The difficulty arises in finding old-enough ice.

Greenland ice cores date back only 100,000 years because of how much the ice flows. Antarctica, on the other hand, is much colder and the ice more stable. Thus, previous teams have extracted Antarctic ice cores dating back 420,000 years at Vostok Station and almost 800,000 years from Dome C. Though impressive, these dates are not ancient enough to answer why the ice age frequency changed.

However, an ice core from an even colder, more remote Antarctic location called Dome A should remedy this deficiency. Dome A stands over two and a half miles high and over 750 miles from the edge of the Antarctic ice cap. The higher elevation, scarce yearly precipitation, and stability of this region make it very likely that an ice core would retrieve usable ice from as far back as one to two million years ago. Currently, scientists are working to map out the most promising areas to drill in Dome A. Scientists hope that an international drilling operation might begin as early as 2012.

The importance of this search for old ice cannot be overstated. Humanity’s time on Earth dates back around 50,000 years. However, the extensive glaciation of Earth during ice ages would severely hamper humanity’s ability to fulfill God’s command to fill the Earth and subdue it. Thus, the frequency of the ice ages needed to drop before humanity arrived on Earth.

As my cordless drill provides a tool for building and improving my house, a Dome A ice core will provide a powerful tool to better understand the mechanism driving the reduction in ice age frequency. Additionally, RTB’s creation model predicts that the data derived from the ice core will provide further evidence of the work of a supernatural creator fine-tuning His creation to support human life.

  1. Nicola Jones, “Buried Treasure,” Nature 446 (March 6, 2007): 126-28.