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Ice cores and interglacials – Prof. Eric Wolff FRS
13 October | 18:00 - 19:30
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The polar ice sheets hold one of Earth’s great sedimentary records. By drilling ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, we can obtain ice that fell as snow, extending back so far 800,000 years in Antarctica and over 120,000 years in Greenland. Ice cores contain information about climate and numerous other environmental parameters; crucially the air bubbles trapped in the ice give access to the past composition of the atmosphere, including the greenhouse gas concentrations. In this talk, I will first discuss the strengths and weaknesses of ice cores and then demonstrate how ice cores are collected. I will then present some highlights of recent ice core research. I will concentrate particularly on the periods in the record that are as warm or warmer than the present. The most recent of these, the last interglacial, offers an especially useful example, and I will explain how we are working to discover what happened to the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheet at a time when sea level appears to have been elevated. Finally, I will discuss the interglacial we are currently in and its extended future in the light of anthropogenic climate change.
Eric Wolff is a Royal Society Research Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University. His main research goal is to understand the causes of climate evolution over recent glacial cycles. After graduating as a chemist, he has studied ice cores from the Antarctic and Greenland for the past 30 years, using them to understand changing climate, as well as changing levels of pollution in remote areas. He also carries out research into the chemistry of the lower parts of the Antarctic atmosphere. Until June 2013, he led a programme at the British Antarctic Survey, where he is an Honorary Fellow. He chaired the science committee of the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) and the Royal Society’s Global Environmental Research Committee until 2018, and led the Royal Society team in a joint initiative with the National Academy of Sciences on explaining climate science “Climate change: evidence and causes” in 2013.