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September-October 2016

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Ice Cores Reveal Climate History Clues

Those who follow weather and climate news are used to seeing references to “ice cores” in reports about earth's past climates. For example, on March 8, 2016, the British newspaper The Guardian reported: “Somewhere deep below the ice in Antarctica lies a time capsule that promises to reveal the past and future of Earth's atmosphere.”

The story quotes Tas van Ommen, from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre at the University of Tasmania, who was chair of a climate science conference in Hobart, Australia, as saying that a million-year-old ice core could help scientists understand why roughly a million years ago, ice ages shifted from occurring roughly every 100,000 years to happening every 40,000 or so years. Attendees at the Hobart conference were confident that at least some of the ice that now covers 98% of Antarctica's 5.1 million square miles is deep enough to be more than a million years old. Cores drilled thus far in Antarctica and Greenland show climate changes going back 800,000 years.       

JACK WILLIAMS was the founding weather editor of USA TODAY and is now a freelance writer. He is the author or co-author of seven books, five of which are about weather.       

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