Tag Archives: Ice core

Just in time… after 7000 years!

The bottom ice of the Ortles Glacier is 7000 years old and now … is moving.

“It is possible that some meltwater infiltrated in depth from the rock outcrops and it is now lubricating the glacier base during the current exceptionally warm summers, thus facilitating basal ice sliding.” explains the project leader Paolo Gabrielli. “It means that information about the past climate contained in this glacier are going to be lost forever. Thus, when in 2011 four ice cores were retrieved from the Ortles glacier, we arrived just in time to extract the deep ice before it moved away.”

Findings of the research carried out by an international team show that the deepest ice of Ortles Glacier formed around 7000 years ago at the end of a warm period, the so-called Northern Hemisphere Climatic Optimum. Afterward, a cold period started, the so-called Neoglatiacion. It is not just a case that the world-famous mummy of the Tyrolean Iceman, that dates back to that period, was discovered nearby in 1991.

The ice cores retrieved from the Ortles Glacier are important not only to reconstruct the past climate of the area but also for studying modern climate change relationships from a small scale to a global one. This is valid for all the low latitude glaciers that, unfortunately, are disappearing and losing invaluable information they have preserved for thousands of years.

This concern led to an International program with a striking name, the “Ice Memory Project“.

“Ice cores from low latitude glaciers will be stored in the coldest place on the Earth, Antarctica” explains Prof. Carlo Barbante ” In this way they will be available for further research of the next generation of scientists which will have more powerful technology”
This is the real nature of research: seeking into the past to look forward!

For more information read the entire article

First results 2013


 An unprecedented change in the Ortles glacier

After two years of study of the highest glacier of South Tyrol and the Eastern Alps, the researchers present their results.

These are geologists, climatologists, and medical doctors from more than 20 different institutions from around the world. In common they have their source of research information. During 2011 they were involved in a scientific expedition on Mt. Ortles to gather information and study this glacier, climate and the high altitude environment.

Two years after the expedition the project partners have met in a workshop that was held on September the 10th  at EURAC in Bolzano (Italy). They have presented results of the principal studies, evaluated new research perspectives and possible collaborations.

Initial results

The first results from the Ortles ice cores were recently presented at the international paleoclimatology conference IPICS 2012 (International Partnerships in Ice Core Science) in Marseille, France. The cores were drilled last year under the auspices of the international “Ortles Project”.

The “Ortles Project” is an international research project coordinated by the Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University and the autonomous province of Bolzano. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation and includes scientific collaboration with IDPA-CNR Venice, The University of Innsbruck, The University of Bern, The Russian Academy of Sciences, The University of Padova (TeSAF), the geological survey of the province of Bolzano, the University of Pavia, Waterstones srl, and the remote sensing group at EURAC in Bolzano.


The research scope uses a series of Ortles ice cores drilled to bedrock as an archive of past climate conditions affecting the Eastern Alps. “The ice core study is accompanied by monitoring the Ortles ice cap as a strategic observatory of climate change affecting high altitude sites, with particular attention to the physical variations in the ice mass and permafrost extent,” explains Roberto Dinale from the provincial hydrological office.

Dr. Paolo Gabrielli presented the initial results from the ice cores that were drilled to bedrock (approximately 75 m depth) one year ago at the summit of Ortles (3859 masl) in Alto Adige. Dr. Gabrielli presented these results at the recent international paleoclimatology conference IPICS 2012 (International Partnerships in Ice Core Science) in Marseille, France.

Although melting has affected the surface of the Ortles glaciers during recent summers, deeper glacial ice has conserved an annual archive of past atmospheric chemistry. The analyses, coordinated by Paolo Gabrielli of the Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University, demonstrate that the ice from a depth of 41 m demonstrate characteristic radioisotope layers resulting from atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963. This marker is identifiable in ice cores from Antartica to Greenland, and is a frequently used stratigraphic marker for dating ice cores. “Along these lines, we also extracted a pine needle at 74 m depth that has been transported by wind to these high altitudes in the past, which allowed us to carbon-14 date the basal Ortles ice to a date of approximately 2664 years before present, which corresponds with the second Iron Age,” explains Dr. Gabrielli.

“These first results”, explains Hanspeter Staffler, director of the civil and fire protection of the province of Bolzano, “ are encouraging as they verify that we were able to recover this important archive of climate and environmental information before they were compromised by melting caused by the increased summer temperatures over the past 30 years”. Ongoing and future analyses will provide more precise climatic indications over the time period encompassed by the Ortles ice cores.


Aggiornamento 2011

Almost three months have passed since the “hot” phase of the Ortler project, meaning those three weeks in September and October 2011, when an international research team extracted for the very first time an ice core from the bottom of the summit of the Ortler glacier in the Eastern Alps. This happened four times: the team was able to extract a 75 metre ice core three times and a 60 metre core once.

During that same period some 20 high school students from the surrounding area got involved through educational activities organised by the same researchers. The goal was to bring teachers and students to the place where the research was taking place – and while it was ongoing – in order to allow them to “witness” the research.

3 November Interview with Paolo Gabrielli

A few days ago the “Science Day” took place in Bolzano/Bozen at EURAC. The Science Day is a type of fair where projects, proposals and ideas for teaching science in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen were presented. The ORTLER project was presented as well and we were able to see close up how much has been happening around this project so far. We will soon publish new posts including pictures and reports about the work currently going on in all participating schools.

Today we have the honour of publishing an interview with Dr. Paolo Gabrielli, a researcher from the Trentino region in Italy, who is also the scientific coordinator of the project. He was able to answer to some of our questions shortly before returning to work at the Byrd Polar Centre of the Ohio State University of Columbus (USA).

Paolo, you are shortly due to go back to the USA. Four ice cores, three of them reaching down to the rock underneath the glacier, were extracted. Were you expecting such a result a few months ago?

To tell you the truth, yes, I was expecting this, although the extraction of four ice cores was our most ambitious goal. We had prepared everything in such a way that would allow this result. I would have considered extracting one such ice core, reaching down to the rock, a success. This was not a certainty at the outset… especially considering the technical difficulties we had during the operations.

What are the unique features of this project?

18 October – The outcome

Below is a short summary report of what happened on the Ortler project over the course of the last month.

Between 23 September and6 October 2011, four ice cores were extracted at 3,860 metres from the “Vedretta Alta dell’Ortles” glacier in South Tyrol. This is the first time ice cores have been extracted from the Eastern Alps. The rock, which lies 75 metres below the glacier, was reached during three of the extractions, whereas during the last operation, perforation only reached 60 metres.

13th October 3-1. Let’s summarise!

Today we would like to summarise what’s happened so far.

As you might have guessed, the group of researchers has left the summit glacier of the Ortler mountain where perforation activities had been taking place. They took down all structures beginning the afternoon of 6 October and left the site the following morning. The helicopter had to make 20 return flights in order to bring all the material down to the valley, including the four precious ice cores which had been extracted during four separate operations.

4 October 2011 – …and a THIRD!

Yesterday the researchers and technicians were able to extract another ice core from the summit glacier of the Ortler mountain. For the third time within just a few days they were able to reach the rocks on which the glacier lies.

This time, not only the climatic but also the perforation conditions were particularly favourable. Since the upper layers only contained little melt water, which therefore did not obstruct the hole, the perforation was faster.