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Swiss Researcher Drilling for Old Ice

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 27 December 2023

Swiss researcher Matthias Jaggi is drilling for hundreds of thousands of years old ice in the Antarctic.

Swiss Researcher Drilling for Old Ice

The cold doesn’t bother the engineer from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) much.

In the summer heat of minus 20 degrees in Antarctica, Jaggi (40) likes to jog 500 meters in shorts and sneakers. “You feel every last muscle fiber and every nerve,” the engineer from the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos told the news agency DPA. “You feel really awake.”

Jaggi is currently working at the French-Italian research station Dome Concordia on a plateau more than 3000 meters high in the Antarctic. It is summer there at the moment. By the end of January it will be colder again, often around minus 50 degrees, says Jaggi. The station is around 15,000 kilometers away from Central Europe.

1.5 Million Year Old Cce

Jaggi’s project: he is investigating certain change processes in the snow. The findings are important for the analysis of ice cores. Deep holes are drilled at the Dome Concordia station to bring ancient layers of ice to light. It goes deeper and deeper. Soon, 1.5 million year old layers will be reached.

Each layer of snow that has compacted into ice over time has a specific structure and chemical properties depending on the weather conditions at the time, which researchers can use to draw conclusions about the climate conditions at the time. From the so-called isotopic composition of the water, for example, conclusions can be drawn about the air temperature at that time.

“With the water isotopes stored in the ice cores, we will soon have an archive of temperature data covering the last 1.5 million years – crazy, isn’t it?” said Jaggi. “My experiment is a small piece of the puzzle in the overall understanding of the climatic processes on our planet.”

Ice to Davos

Jaggi also sends snow samples to Davos for examination using computer tomography. Transportation at a constant temperature of at least minus 20 degrees is a challenge. The polystyrene boxes are first transported 1200 kilometers by snowcat to the French station Dumont d’Urville, from there by icebreaker to Brest in France and then by truck to Davos.

This is the second time Jaggi has spent several months in Antarctica. He is fascinated by the ice and snow, especially the Antarctic coastal regions. “The sea, the icebergs, the sea ice, the color transitions from white to blue, penguins, birds, mountains, glaciers coming into the sea – extremely impressive,” he said. “Knowing that this frozen part of the world is in danger due to global warming is depressing.”

Holiday Research

Swiss Researcher Drilling for Old Ice

There are currently around 60 people at the research station. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are of course celebrated, said Jaggi, albeit in the light. The South Pole is currently facing the sun, so it stays light 24 hours a day. The station is equipped with a sauna, climbing wall, table football, sports and movie room. And Jaggi plays the electric piano. “It’s a good place to live,” he said. What he misses: shopping and cooking for himself, paragliding and the mountains.

Minus 20 degrees is bearable if there is no wind, explained the researcher. “You can almost work in a T-shirt when it’s sunny.” He spends the night at a summer camp around 500 meters from the station – hence the jogging route in sneakers and shorts. His work gets him out in the fresh air a lot, so he tends to avoid it in his free time. “The tip of my nose is happy to be spared as much as possible anyway,” said Jaggi. “The cold has already left its mark.”

Climate and environmental protection are a major issue at the Dome Concordia station. Waste is meticulously sorted, tamped and packaged. Everything is transported away and disposed of in Australia. The shower water is filtered and reused. Jaggi explained that leftovers are always recycled when eating. More solar or wind power is being considered for the renovation of the station, which will soon be 20 years old. However, any use of technology is a challenge under the extreme conditions.

©Keystone/SDA

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