Examining Frozen History in Reno - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Examining Frozen History in Reno

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At Reno's Desert Research Institute, inside what's called the "cold lab," a 68,000-year-old ice core is about to give up more of the Earth's secrets. Drilled from the deep at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, this ancient artifact sits in a chemistry cold lab at minus 15 degrees Celsius. Dr. Joe McConnell, a snow hydrologist at DRI told us, "The colder it is the less it's changing, so we want to keep it as cold as possible."

The ice core had an amazing journey. This one-of-a-kind artifact took eight years to extract and get here. It's the longest ice core ever brought to the U.S. Why is it here at DRI? As visiting scientist Rachel Rhodes told us, "Because it has the best ice core lab for doing this type of processing in the U.S."

When snow fell in the Antarctic where the ice core comes from, it didn't melt. Instead the snow was compressed into ice. Year after year brought layer by layer. To analyze it today, the ice core is lowered to where the scientists scrape off a bit, which goes into a heated plate. The water goes to the chemist, who determines the ancient atmosphere from the air bubbles that were in the ice.

From these ice layers the scientists at DRI find out so many things, including a few surprises. Dr. McConnell was surprised at the evidence of forest fire soot they found. He told us there's "A history of forest fire emissions in this ice core. Most of these fires would be from South America."

The ultimate goal is to help us understand why climate can change so abruptly, and how it could unfold in the future. Already, ice cores like this have provided stark detail into how fast global warming is happening. What they're finding is a dramatic contrast. As Rhodes put it, "It scares me, because even though we've had a really fast rate of change in the past, it's nothing compared to what we have been doing to the climate."

It's one of the stories this ancient ice is telling, right here in Reno.

Written by John Potter

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