Ice core carbon dating
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Ice cores are one of the most effective, though not the only, methods of recreating long term records of temperature and atmospheric gases. Particularly in the polar region, but also at high elevations elsewhere, snow falls on an annual cycle and remains permanently. Over time, a few decades, the layers of snow compact under their own weight and become ice. By drilling through that ice, and recovering cylinders of it, it is possible to reconstruct records of temperature and of atmospheric gases for periods of hundreds of thousands of years. Technologically the recovery of ice cores and their analysis is an amazing feat.
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Linking ice cores and other climate archives
Ice cores and climate change - British Antarctic Survey
After more than two years of analysis, the oldest complete ice core has served up a reliable snapshot of our planet's atmosphere from nearly 2 million years ago. And the results are not what many expected. We know that roughly 1 million years ago, the cycle of Earth's ice ages suddenly shifted, with deeper and longer freezes occurring only every , years, instead of once every 40, years. Ancient air bubbles trapped in the Antarctic ice sheet have now revealed a somewhat different picture. Dating back roughly 1. The oldest sample of ice we could test for CO2 levels previous to this new core was a 'mere' , years old; other estimates based on the chemistry of Earth's sediments are only useful as a proxy for greenhouse gas levels - they're not useless, but more verification is necessary. The new ice analysis, which used more precise measurements than before, has revealed that "although CO2 levels during glacials stayed well above the lows that occurred during the deep glacials of the past , years, the maximum CO2 concentrations during interglacials did not decline," Earth scientist Eric Wolff from the University of Cambridge writes in a review of the research.
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How are ice cores dated?
Ice cores are cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet or glacier. Most ice core records come from Antarctica and Greenland, and the longest ice cores extend to 3km in depth. The oldest continuous ice core records to date extend , years in Greenland and , years in Antarctica. Ice cores contain information about past temperature, and about many other aspects of the environment. Crucially, the ice encloses small bubbles of air that contain a sample of the atmosphere — from these it is possible to measure directly the past concentration of gases including carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.
By Michael Le Page. See all climate myths in our special feature. How should past CO 2 levels compare with past temperatures? If there is no relation between CO 2 and temperature, there should be no correlation at all. If CO 2 is the only factor determining temperature, there should be a very close correlation.