GLACIERS: Climate Traps

We’re listening to the sounds of a glacier. Glaciers are a bit like rivers of compressed ice, that form and move over vast periods of time. By studying them, glaciologists can actually observe the long-term rhythms of Earth’s climate. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Glacier ice is formed when snow falls but doesn’t melt. Over time, as the layers of snow collect, they turn to ice under the weight of new layers. Andrew Russell, a lecturer in physical geography at Great Britain’s Keele University tells us that this formation process creates a sort of “climate trap”.

“Glacier ice differs from the sort of ice that we get in a refrigerator in that it’s very dense, and it also contains lots of materials that really have fallen out from the atmosphere on top of the glacier. So rather than being pure sort of ice — pure water if you melted it — you’d also find there’d be some chemicals in it, and there would also be some dust and debris that had been deposited at the time the snow fell.”

Taking core samples from glaciers is a bit like opening a time capsule with a collection in it of ancient climates.

“In the last decade, various glaciologists have been looking at the layers within the glacier, and have been reconstructing past climates. They drill down through the glacier and they examine all the different layers that exist, and they do analysis at various levels within the ice, and that can tell us how things like temperatures in the past have varied, how rapidly temperatures changed. And that can help us in understanding how past global climates have operated.”

We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I’m Jim Metzner.

GLACIERS: Climate Traps

Atmospheric debris collects in the slow-forming ice of glaciers, making them a “time capsule” of climate information.
Air Date:01/29/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

We're listening to the sounds of a glacier. Glaciers are a bit like rivers of compressed ice, that form and move over vast periods of time. By studying them, glaciologists can actually observe the long-term rhythms of Earth's climate. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Glacier ice is formed when snow falls but doesn't melt. Over time, as the layers of snow collect, they turn to ice under the weight of new layers. Andrew Russell, a lecturer in physical geography at Great Britain's Keele University tells us that this formation process creates a sort of "climate trap".

"Glacier ice differs from the sort of ice that we get in a refrigerator in that it's very dense, and it also contains lots of materials that really have fallen out from the atmosphere on top of the glacier. So rather than being pure sort of ice -- pure water if you melted it -- you'd also find there'd be some chemicals in it, and there would also be some dust and debris that had been deposited at the time the snow fell."

Taking core samples from glaciers is a bit like opening a time capsule with a collection in it of ancient climates.

"In the last decade, various glaciologists have been looking at the layers within the glacier, and have been reconstructing past climates. They drill down through the glacier and they examine all the different layers that exist, and they do analysis at various levels within the ice, and that can tell us how things like temperatures in the past have varied, how rapidly temperatures changed. And that can help us in understanding how past global climates have operated."

We'll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.