What temperatures are ice cores stored at?

Question: how cold do we need to keep ice cores to save the data? Submitted by Kettaashano Hi Kettaashano, Thank you for a very interesting question! The world’s major ice core storage facilities, such as the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility, store ice cores in large freezers at a temperature of around -36°C. Often, such facilities also house a slightly warmer (around -25°C) ‘examination room’ where scientists analyse the ice cores. Interestingly, there is now a push amongst ice core scientists to develop even colder storage facilities (Dalton, 2009), after evidence showing that the oxygen trapped within tiny bubbles in the ice (which is used to reconstruct Earth’s past temperatures) can be lost to the outside air by diffusion when stored at temperatures of between -20°C and -30°C (Bender et al., 1995). This is important as the loss of oxygen may lead scientists to make incorrect conclusions about the working of Earth’s climate system. It has been shown that storage temperatures of -50°C can limit this oxygen loss (Ikeda-Fukazawa et al., 2005), so ice core researchers are now keen to rebuild storage facilities that can achieve these temperatures. I hope this helps! Jacob References Bender, M., Sowers, T. and Lipenkov, J., 1995. On the concentrations of O2, N2, and Ar in trapped gases from ice cores. Journal of Geophysical Research, 100, 18651-18660. Dalton, R. 2009. Ice core researchers hope to chill out. Nature, 460, 786-787. Ikeda-Fukazawa, T., Fukumizu, K., Kawamura, K., Aoki, S., Nakazawa, T. and Hondoh, T., 2005. Effects of molecular diffusion on trapped gas composition in polar ice cores. Earth and Planetary Science Letters229, 183-192.


I am a Quaternary geologist with a focus on palaeo-ice sheet dynamics and palaeoclimate change during the last 20,000 years. I study glacial landforms to reconstruct glacier (and glacial lake) extents, dimensions and depositional processes. However, my main focus lies with the sedimentological analysis of annually-layered glacial lake sediments (known as varves) to develop continuous, high-resolution records of past ice sheet response to sub-centennial (rapid) climate shifts. Read more about me at https://www.antarcticglaciers.org/about-2/jacob-bendle/

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