Tasmania big player in Antarctic science

WE MIGHT be small but time and time again, Tasmania has continued to punch above its weight when it comes to Antarctic science.

Last week, more than 200 international climate scientists from across the globe came to Hobart to take part in one of the most significant ice core conferences in the world.

The International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences Second Open Science Conference saw scientists from 22 different countries gather to discuss one thing - ice cores.

The world-renowned experts hailed from as far and wide as the Polar Research Institute of China, the Ohio State University and the University of Cambridge, all met to share their ideas and achievements.

Ice cores have proven to be an invaluable resource to scientists – a sneak peek into our past.

In Antarctic, ice cores have been obtained that date back as far as 800,000 years but there are hopes that in the near future, scientists will be able to crack the one-million-year mark.

Within the ice cores are oxygen bubbles that reveal even more information about the history of our planet.

Australian Antarctic Division director Nick Gales said Australia had a long history of ice core science that dated back to the 1960s.

‘‘We have long recognised the importance of collaboration and shared drilling technology, personnel and equipment, laboratory analysis and techniques with many nations over many years,’’ Dr Gales.

And the host of international scientists agreed.

Danish palaeoclimatology professor and researcher Dorthe Dahl-Jensen has worked in the ice core field for more than 30 years.

In the first few years of her research, Dr Dahl-Jensen spent much of her time in Hobart and Melbourne, working with a team that she still partners with today.

Dr Dahl-Jensen mostly works with the ice cores in Greenland where she leads ice core drilling projects.

For her, ice core drilling is one of the most accurate techniques to catch a glimpse of our distant past.

‘‘The first reason for ice cores is climate investigation because when we do them we can go back in time,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s very much a study of the past climate.’’

‘‘The planet has never been stable, there’s been cold and warm periods and one of our very important projects right now is to look at the past warm periods and see how the planet behaved.’’

With the ability to trap air bubbles within the ice, the drilled cores show the spikes and troughs of climate change over the centuries but Dr Dahl-Jensen said that today’s measurements were incomparable to the past.

‘‘Ice cores have proved to be a very, very important source of knowing what the greenhouse gas concentrations were back in time,’’ she said.

‘‘We know that carbon dioxide and methane levels are increasing now as humans influence time, but what the ice cores tell us is how the planet looked before humans were there.

‘‘We are off-balance now because we have increased the greenhouse gas levels by a very long way and the climate system is not in balance with this increase yet.’’

Having stayed in Hobart many times over her career, Dr Dahl-Jensen said she loved coming back to Tasmania, especially when she is able to work fellow scientists.

‘‘We have the ice core conferences about every five years and they are simply the best conferences I know of because we get everyone together and we talk about new ideas,’’ she said.

‘‘These conferences start a lot of interaction between the different science groups so we share and develop methods.

‘‘We are a small community but we have a strong friendship.’’

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