Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows
Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows

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Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows

3.1 Ice cores and the atmosphere

Analysis of ice cores collected in the Polar Regions can also tell us about how the climate has changed. Watch Video 4 which shows how scientists extract cores from the ice sheets and then saw them up for analysis in a laboratory.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 4
Skip transcript: Video 4 Ice core drilling

Transcript: Video 4 Ice core drilling

SUBJECT 1:
We're at the corner of [INAUDIBLE].
SUBJECT 2:
Might stick a radio about him if he's got a laptop.
[INDISTINCT CONVERSATIONS]
[WHIRRING]
Up it goes!
[WHIRRING]
SUBJECT 3:
Well, that's a nice piece I cut, about two metres long. And around about here is 500-metres depth from the surface. And that's ice that fell as snow about 5,800 years ago.
[WHIRRING]
End transcript: Video 4 Ice core drilling
Video 4 Ice core drilling
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In addition to looking at snowfall, the use of different chemical and physical techniques to analyse ice cores can tell you about dust and pollen in the atmosphere, past volcanic activity, and even the industrial production of civilisations long past. For example, Figure 11 shows the concentrations of lead in the ice of different ages, and compares it with the recorded production of lead starting with the discovery of ‘cupellation’ (separating precious metals like silver from base metals like lead).

Notice that the vertical axis of the lead production graph in Figure 11(a) is a logarithmic scale. Each successive tick mark up the axis has a value ten times bigger than the previous one. For example, 100 is equal to 1, 102 is equal to 100, and the tick mark between them is 101 (i.e. 10). A logarithmic axis enables changes over a large range to be compressed onto a small scale.

Described image
Figure 11 (a) Global lead production; (b) the concentration of lead in a Greenland ice core (years before present or ‘BP’) (adapted from Hong et al., 1994)
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