Ice Memory mission accomplished: 10,000 years of climate "memory" preserved

The tent used for core sampling on Colle Gnifetti. On the ridge is Capanna Margherita, the highest mountain refuge in Europe

The Ice Memory mission on Monte Rosa has been accomplished. After working on the Gorner glacier for five days at 4,500m, scientists extracted two shallow core samples and two deep samples over 82m long. 

In the section closest to the rock, the sample could contain information on the climate and environment of ten thousand years ago. If analyses confirm this, it would mean that the most ancient ice in the Alps will be stored in Antarctica.

The last section of the first ice core (82.7m) is extracted

The mission was organised by the Institute of Polar Sciences (ISP) of the Italian National Research Council and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, in collaboration with the Swiss Paul Scherrer Institute.

Ice Memory is an international programme that aims “to provide, now and for decades and centuries to come, the raw material and data necessary for scientific advances and political decisions that contribute to the sustainability and well-being of humanity”. It aims to do so by creating, in Antarctica, an archive of ice cores from the Earth’s mountain glaciers currently in danger of degradation or disappearance.

“The mission was a success: the team obtained two ice cores over 80m deep from a very important site, which contains information on the climate of the last ten thousand years,” says Carlo Barbante, director of the CNR-ISP and professor at Ca’ Foscari. “The team worked well despite the harsh weather conditions, with strong gusts of wind and snow. Now this precious archive of the climate history of the Alps will be preserved for the future.”

The team at work during a blizzard

“Ice Memory is one of Ca’ Foscari’s most significant projects,” says Tiziana Lippiello, Rector of Ca’ Foscari. “Our university was among the first to engage in the study of climate change and of its impact on various fields (economics, science, society, culture). Our climate is in a state of emergency. In order to face this crisis, we need to understand the causes and find possible solutions, so research and teaching are necessary. With the Ice Memory project, Ca’ Foscari is committed to making a relevant contribution, together with CNR and the other international partners.”

The mission

On 1 June, the team left Alagna Valsesia (Vercelli) at the foot of Monte Rosa. The researchers spent two days at Capanna Gnifetti refuge (3,600m), in order to acclimatise. Then they continued on to Colle Gnifetti to carry out deep core sampling. 

For the duration of the mission, the scientists stayed at Capanna Margherita – the highest mountain refuge in Europe, built on a rocky peak 128 years ago for the purpose of contributing to scientific research in the field of physiology and, more recently, of climatology and natural science. Thanks to the support of Rifugi Monterosa, Capanna Margherita was opened just to host the scientists. The refuge will open again during the second half of June to welcome mountaineers. 

The team included Margit Schwikowski (Psi), Theo Jenk (team leader, Psi), François Burgay (Psi), Jacopo Gabrieli (Cnr/Ca’ Foscari), Fabrizio de Blasi (Cnr/Ca’ Foscari), Andrea Spolaor (Cnr/Ca’ Foscari), Paolo Conz (mountain guide), Sabine Harbeke (ZHdK, PolARTS project), Riccardo Selvatico (videomaker).

The expedition on Monte Rosa was funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (with the special supplementary fund for research, FISR) and by the Paul Scherrer Institute

The mission was sponsored by AKU and Karpos and featured the collaboration of Comune di Alagna Valsesia, Alagna’s Mountain Guides, Rifugi Monterosa, Monterosa 2000 spa, Camp, AVIS, ARPA Piemonte, ARPA Valle d'Aosta, Comitato Glaciologico Italiano, Ente di gestione delle aree protette della Valle Sesia, Fondazione Montagna Sicura, the University of Turin, Einwohnergemeinde Zermatt, Sektion Naturgefahren Kanton Wallis.

Author: Enrico Costa / Translator: Joangela Ceccon