Prof. John Higgins partners with Oregon State University, and other paleoclimate experts, to build a NSF-funded Center for Oldest Ice Exploration

Written by
Georgette Chalker, The Department of Geosciences
Nov. 29, 2021

Under a five-year, $25 million Science and Technology Center award, the Center for Oldest Ice Exploration (COLDEX) has been established to address climate change and its impacts. The center’s announcement came on September 09, 2021, under the umbrella Science and Technology Centers (STCs) Integrative Partnerships. COLDEX will be led by Edward Brook of Oregon State University (OSU) as principal investigator, John Higgins as a co-principal investigator, along with Jeffrey Severinghaus (Scripps), Erin C Pettit (OSU) and Michelle Koutnik (UW) as co-principal investigators. They intend to bring-in other experts across the U.S. in order to give the center a wider breadth of tools and research directions.

In 2015, Prof. Higgins, a Princeton University assistant professor of geosciences, led a team of scientists that recovered a >2-million-year-old ice core from the remote Allan Hills of Antarctica. Currently, that is the oldest ice ever recorded by scientists. These ice samples are extremely valuable to researchers because “the tiny bubbles within the ice contain the best snapshot of the past air.” You can follow Prof. Higgins' explorations via his twitter feed at @blueicehiggins.

Scientists have long understood that there is a direct relationship between greenhouse gases and climate. However, a key question is the Earth’s ‘climate sensitivity’, or, how much warming we expect for a given increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases. Ice core records hold information about past climate and greenhouse gas concentrations under conditions that were very different than today and provide valuable insight into the relationship between climate and greenhouse gases in the past. However, continuous ice core records only exist for the past 800,000 years. Given the current urgency of climate change and its impact on the Earth, COLDEX wants to push the barriers even further and search for ice in Antarctica that is older, as well as, test newer technologies and establish an archive of data to assist the next generation of ice exploration scientists. The secrets of the past lie within these tiny bubbles and scientists know that its knowledge is within their grasp. However, they need to identify where this oldest ice is located. That will be a key mission for COLDEX over the next five years.

Related links:

Oregon State to lead National Science Foundation-funded Center for Oldest Ice Exploration
https://today.oregonstate.edu/news/oregon-state-lead-national-science-foundation-funded-center-oldest-ice-exploration

New Science and Technology Centers to address vexing societal problems
https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/announcements/090921.jsp