Ice Core Paleoclimatology : Overview

BPRC scientists, led by the world-renowned glaciologist Dr. Lonnie Thompson, specialize in studying ice cores from tropical and subtropical areas. They visit high-altitude glaciers (alpine glaciers) that have existed for thousands of years. To do this, they plan and carry out research expeditions all over the world, including trips to Alaska, Tanzania, China, Greenland, Russia, Peru, and Bolivia. Once the ice cores are extracted, they are brought back, analyzed, and stored for future research at the BPRC.

Clues to Past Climate Preserved in Ice

Paleoclimatology is the study of the past climates of Earth. While we tend to rely more on weather instruments and recorded averages to study changes in the climate of recent decades and the last century, there were no such records from prehistoric times. However, there are several natural processes that have recorded information about climate conditions over very long periods of time, such as: tree rings, coral reef growth rates, preserved pollen types, ice cores, seafloor sediments, and cave formations.

Among these natural sources of information about past conditions, ice cores contain far more information about the past than the other sources do. In addition to the condition and thickness of the ice itself, air and other materials that are trapped in the ice also provide clues to the past. Furthermore, the seasonal accumulation of snow and its gradual conversion to glacial ice provide an annual record of snowfall amounts and atmospheric conditions throughout the year.



To learn more about the Ice Core Paleoclimatology research group,
click on the links at the top.