(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE UK EXPRESS NEWS)
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The Antarctic discovery is touted as the “first direct observation” of the planet’s ancient climate conditions. Researchers led by Princeton University in the US extracted two million-year-old samples ice in the remote Allan Hills of Antarctica. The Antarctic core samples contain pristine samples of trapped greenhouse gases – prehistoric bubbles of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).
The researchers are convinced the ice cores represent untouched snapshots of the Earth’s climate from a time before man ruled the world.
According to Dr Yuzhen Yan, who led the Antarctic study, the discovery paints an overall picture of changes in the climate.
He said: “You don’t get a sense of how things changed continually, but you get an idea of big changes over time.”
The discovery was presented in the journal Nature this month.
Antarctica news: Researchers have drilled 2 million-year-old ice cores
Antarctica news: The discovery reveals the Earth’s prehistoric climate
According to Dr Yan, ice core samples from Antarctica show a continuous record of the climate dating back to about 800,000 years in the past.
But because of the way ice flows and compresses over time, samples dating even farther into the past show more widely distributed patterns.
The two million-year-old cores were drilled in the Allan Hills region by Princeton associate professor John Higgins.
Professor Higgins previously drilled out one million-year-old ice cores, which at the time were the oldest ever recovered.
The researchers dated the ice cores by analysing isotopes of argon gas trapped in the ice.
Now, the newly recovered older ice cores have helped researchers better understand how the planet’s glacial cycle took shape.
You get an idea of big changes over time
Dr Yan said: “The ability to measure atmospheric composition directly is one of the biggest advantages of ice cores.
“That’s why people spend years and years in the most isolated places getting them.”
Up until about 1.2 million years ago, the planet’s glaciers were thinner and smaller.
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Antarctica news: Atmospheric carbon dioxide is at unprecedented levels
Antarctica news: Ice cores show a record of Earth’s changing climate
The glaciers most likely formed and melted away over a 40,000-year-long cycle.
But after the so-called Mid-Pleistocene Transition between 1.2 million 700,000 years ago, the glacial cycle became considerably longer.
The planet was much colder than it is today and glaciers formed and melted over cycles 100,000-years-long.
Although atmospheric CO2 is not to blame for the prehistoric transition, the research has found the planet is experiencing unprecedented levels of the atmospheric gas today.
According to space agency NASA, levels of atmospheric CO2 stand around 408.53 parts per million (ppm) as of October 2019.
Dr Yan said: “We’re seeing carbon dioxide levels not seen in two million years.
“While our data suggest that long-term carbon dioxide decline was not the decisive factor in the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, it does not mean that carbon dioxide does not have the capability to bring about global-scale changes.
“We’re in a different situation now — carbon dioxide is the major player in our current world.
“If we want to look into the geologic past for an analogy of what’s going on in our world today, we need to go beyond two million years to find it.”