Canada's ice archive finds new home at the University of Alberta

An impressive archive of ancient ice cores representing 40 years of research by government scientists in the Canadian Arctic will soon be housed in Edmonton.

Cold collection, facing eviction in Ottawa, will move to Edmonton

Ice core driller Ali Criscitiello examines a core sample. (Photo courtesy Anja Rutihauser)

An impressive archive of ancient ice cores that represents 40 years of research in the Canadian Arctic will soon be housed in Edmonton.

The collection includes more than 1,000 metres of ice cores, each about one metre long. Amassed by government scientists since the early 1970s, the columns represent at least 10,000 years of ice formation, with some dating back to the last ice age.

Trapped inside each one are dust particles, gas bubbles and chemical isotopes that can help scientists answer critical questions about the planet's past.

"They provide a pretty high-resolution record of things that happened on the Earth, in terms of  climate change and human activity, and its effect on the atmosphere," said glaciologist Martin Sharp, a professor in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta.

"They really help to us understand things that changed in the Earth's system over those time scales, and begin to answer questions about why they happened and what the consequences might have been."

Selected as the official custodian of the ice cores last year, the university has garnered the necessary funding to care for the national collection.

A $2.3-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will fund construction of a new facility to house the collection. Two expansive walk-in freezers and a new analytical laboratory are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Previously housed in Ottawa's Ice Core Research Laboratory at the Geological Survey of Canada, the collection was orphaned due to budget cuts at Natural Resources Canada.

"They decided to put out a call for expressions of interest to take those ice cores off their hands, provide a new home for them and maybe initiate a new period of research on them," said Sharp, who has been working on bringing the ice cores to Edmonton for nearly two years.

Once the new facility is completed, the ice cores will make the long trek from their current home in the back of specially designed freezer trucks. Once carefully catalogued, Sharp said the collection will be made available to researchers worldwide, sometime in 2017.

"We can do things now with the instrumentation that you couldn't even think about 40 years ago. So even though they are old cores, there is a lot of new  research potential"


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