Skip to main content

Beyond EPICA - Oldest Ice

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BE-OI (Beyond EPICA - Oldest Ice)

Reporting period: 2018-04-01 to 2019-09-30

Beyond EPICA – Oldest Ice (BE-OI) is the European contribution for the global search for a suitable site for an ice-core deep drilling within the IPICS endeavour “Oldest Ice”. This Coordination and Support Action (CSA) funded by the EU delivered the technical, scientific and financial basis for a comprehensive plan to retrieve an ice core up to 1.5 million years old during the following drilling phase Beyond EPICA.
The consortium is a globally unique concentration of scientific expertise and infrastructure for ice-core investigations and takes care of the pre-site surveys for site selection around Dome C and Dome Fuji, both potentially appropriate regions in East Antarctica.
The retrieval of an oldest ice core during a future drilling campaign would be an important contribution for the future exploration of Antarctica and promises unique insights about climate and the global carbon fluxes. This knowledge will improve future prognoses of climate development with solid quantitative data and will allow establishing more targeted strategies, to cope with the societal challenges of global change.
"The BE-OI Coordination and Support Action (CSA, BE-OI Phase I) was characterised by three intense field season with surveys both within the Dome C region as well as Dronning Maud Land / Dome Fuji region. The performed high-resolution geophysical reconnaissance has led to the successful identification of a suitable drill site in the vicinity of Dome C, where old ice is expected to be found with high confidence. According to all information gained within BE-OI to date, following mandatory glaciological criteria are fulfilled at this site:

• Old and relatively stable ice sheet
• Low accumulation rate
• Low horizontal velocity
• Low basal melting
• Sufficient layer thickness at depth

Beside the selection of the optimal drill side, the consortium overcame the following obstacles in preparation of BE-OI drilling phase:

- Ensure financial support:
o The BE-OI consortium applied for further EU funding and received 11 Mio € EU contribution to carry out the drilling phase (project “Beyond EPICA Oldest Ice Core”, duration 1st June 2019 – 31st May 2025, GA-No. 815385) under the lead of the Italian institute CNR
o Furthermore, all involved nations committed themselves to support the drilling phase by providing infrastructure and other resources

- Ensure logistical support: Any field work has to take into account the constraints due to remoteness, harsh conditions, environmental regulations and energy supply within Antarctica. The selection of the drill side near the French/Italian Concordia Station allows use of its regular operation and transport system and infrastructure, which is run by the project partners IPEV and ENEA. Both committed support to the drilling phase and a detailed logistic plan could be developed.

- Getting the drill equipment ready: extracting a nearly 3 km long ice core from Antarctica requires advanced technology, which will be provided by AWI, UCPHand CNRS. All three organisations have tremendous experiences in deep ice core drilling from previous projects in Antarctica and Greenland. A collection of all equipment will be used during the drilling phase and was tested during BE-OI for compatibility and subsequently improved.

- Develop a science plan: the oldest ice contains precious information to be unravelled by various analytical methods. After consultations with scientists from various fields, a detailed science plan was developed and will be continuously adapted during the drilling phase Beyond EPICA.

The BE-OI consortium organised numerous workshops (internal and with invited experts) and two outreach events (townhall event during POLAR 2018 and session at EGU 2019) to consult with other science communities and nations.

Furthermore, nine peer reviewed publications describing the major outcomes of the project towards the selection of the drill site were so far published during the first reporting period:
# 1: “Geothermal heat flux and basal melt rate in the Dome C region inferred from radar reflectivity and thermal modelling” by Olivier Passalacqua and others in ""The Cryosphere"" doi: 10.5194/tc-2017-23
# 2: “Is there 1.5 million-year old ice near Dome C, Antarctica?” by Frédéric Parrenin and others in ""The Cryosphere"" doi: 10.5194/tc-2017-69
# 3: “Accumulation patterns around Dome C, East Antarctica, in the last 73 kyrs” by Marie G.P. Cavitte and others in ""The Cryosphere"" doi: 10.5194/tc-12-1401-2018
# 4: “Brief communication: ""Oldest Ice"" patches diagnosed 37 km southwest of Dome C, East Antarctica” by Olivier Passalacqua and others in ""The Cryosphere"" doi: 10.5194/tc-2018-19
# 5: “Glaciological characteristics in the Dome Fuji region and new assessment for 1.5 Ma old ice” by Nanna Karlsson and others in ""The Cryosphere"" doi: 10.5194/tc-2017-258
# 6: Promising Oldest Ice sites in East Antarctica based on thermodynamical modelling by Brice Van Liefferinge and others in ""The Cryosphere"" doi: 10.5194/tc-2017-276
# 7: Modelling the Antarctic Ice Sheet across the Mid Pleistocene Transition – Implications for Oldest Ice by Johannes Sutter and others in ""The Cryosphere"" doi: 10.5194/tc-2019-24
# 8: Age stratigraphy in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet inferred from radio echo sounding horizons by Anna Winter and other in ESSD doi: 10.5194/essd-2018-140
# 9: UHF Radar Sounding of Polar Ice Sheets by Jie-Bang Yan and other in IEEE doi: 10.1109/LGRS.2019.2942582"
Major result of BE-OI is the definition of a suitable and most promising drilling site at “Little Dome C”, an area near to Concordia Station and Dome C. The decision is based on an in-depth site survey including large-scale and local ice sheet modelling, geophysical reconnaissance surveys and reconnaissance drilling.
However, the preliminary steps to be taken in advance to such an enormous drilling campaign include much more. The remote drilling location and harsh environmental conditions in Antarctica are a challenge, which can be tackled only by a suitable logistic plan and strong commitment of the involved polar institutes providing appropriate logistic support. These plans are the second outcome of BE-OI.
Another important point is the assembly, testing and improvement of the drilling technology to be used. The technical experts within BE-OI could, which their experience and existing equipment from previous drilling projects, develop a detailed drilling strategy.
Apart from the technical aspects, BE-OI started to train early and mid-term scientists and drilling experts to be prepared for the future drilling phase Beyond EPICA.