A summer job in a -30 degree freezer: CU Boulder students study ancient ice cores


STUDENT: This summer, I have a job. I’m working with INSTAAR, which is the Institute for Alpine and Arctic Research. Basically processing the most recent South Pole ice core, that they’ve taken to send it off
different labs for research. The most recent ice core that we cut, the deepest piece was about 1,700 meters down, and about sixty thousand years old. so it’s literally like a fossil that you’re getting to touch, and you know, mess with and cut. It’s very neat. It’s a super different experience and something that not a lot of people get to do. SCIENTIST: The reason we’re analyzing the ice in these ice cores is really to get an accurate record… of the historical temperature on the ice sheet. And that’s what our analysis does. it’s as if you were standing on the ice sheet with a
thermometer writing down the temperature… every year that that snow fell for the last
hundred thousand years. It’s that good. STUDENT: The freezer’s at about minus 24 Celsius so we put on a lot of layers. we usually have two or three people in there at a time, different CU undergraduate as well working with us. We pull the ice down off of the cart as it comes to us from the other researchers cutting ahead of us. And then we cut our specific piece that we’re going to use, and then we tube it up to send back to the lab for use later. So essentially, I’m just working with a
bandsaw as well as taking notes in a book, documenting the ice, different breakages, how long the pieces are. And then sending it off to the lab. I think it’s an incredibly big deal for
me to be working at the Federal Ice Core Lab. It’s just something that you don’t even think is possible, especially for someone in undergraduate. SCIENTIST: Casey and her undergraduate colleagues are a really critical part of our research operation here. It really requires a village of people to do the work. And that starts from obtaining the ice core in the field, safe travel for the ice back to the lab, where we cut it up into small pieces and analyze it. And as Casey is involved with other students, really careful and meticulous analysis of the ice as it melts and produces a record that we will later interpret as a proxy for… historical temperature in the climate record. STUDENT: I think that CU Boulder really tries to
provide undergraduate research opportunities… kind of unlike any other university. It was super easy for me to find the opportunity as well as apply and interview. SCIENTIST: I feel fortunate to be able to offer this kind of experience to undergraduates because… it really takes over where they, the classroom leaves off. Some people might look at what we’re doing, drilling ice cores from polar regions and bringing them back… and analyzing them as sort of an academic endeavor. But the truth is, it’s critical for all the inhabitants of this planet to really come to grips with what we are… doing to our climate, and how it’s, we’re
changing, it and how it will change us. And we need to think hard about how
we’re going to adapt to those changes. So getting a better picture on how that’s occurred in the past is really critical to our understanding.

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