Natural Environmental Change: The Last 3 Million Years

By A. M. Mannion | Go to book overview

4

The record of environmental change in ice cores

4.1

Introduction

The first cores from the world’s major ice sheets were extracted in the 1960s. Since then, ice cores from a variety of locations have made a major contribution to palaeoenvironmental studies. Of particular note was the raising of a core from Vostok, Antarctica, in the early 1980s, which covered the last glacial/ interglacial cycle (last c. 160K years). Recently, two projects have led to the extraction of two long cores from the Greenland ice sheet: the Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) was organised under the auspices of the European Science Foundation and the Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP). The latter is a North American project.

Whilst these three ice cores have altered ideas on environmental change, and generated controversy through apparent lack of correspondence, there are a number of cores from other regions. For example, cores from Peru, Mongolia and Tibet are now available, and analysis of their components is generating valuable data on environmental change. The availability of palaeoenvironmental data from high latitudes and altitudes provides another significant piece in the global jigsaw of environmental change. Historically (Section 1.2), the record of environmental change in terrestrial and lacustrine sequences (Chapter 5) was the first to receive attention. Later, interest in the oceans and their sediments developed (Chapter 3); this, mainly through the establishment of a widely applicable oxygen isotope stratigraphy (Figure 3.1), provided a framework for global environmental change. Ice-core analysis provides yet another facet of environmental change studies, which introduces information from a different set of archives: glaciers and ice sheets.

Numerous indices of environmental change have been developed in order to exploit these frozen archives. Of these innovations, the establishment of an oxygen isotope stratigraphy is particularly important. This is because it provides both an index of temperature change and a means of correlation between ocean sediments, continental sequences and the ice cores. In addition, the ice cores, through the presence of bubbles, offer a unique opportunity to measure directly the composition of the atmosphere and its temporal change.

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