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The Hunt for Hydroxyl Radicals in Antarctica Could Reveal the Secrets of Our Future Climate

2020-04-08 13:43:39

In every sense, gazing into an Antarctic time tunnel is a chilling experience. You lean over an icy entrance about the size of a dinner plate being exceptionally careful not to drop anything in. It's hard to tell how far you are seeing. Five or 50 metres? A year, a decade, a century or more? As your eyes adjust they see beyond the snap-frozen present and deeper into the decades gone by. The colour shifts from blinding white to electric blue and eventually to a darkness so unfathomable it could be a tunnel into deep space. A core barrel is lowered into the cylindrical shaft, hanging on a cable. It travels at first through layers of hard-packed snow that still retain a connection to the atmosphere above. Go deeper and those pore spaces close off under the weight of snow pushing down from above. The sheer compressive force compacts fluffy snowflakes into solid ice, trapping a tiny bubble of atmosphere from that moment. Each bubble becomes a time capsule. The drill drops through the centuries, reaching for our pre-industrial past. To solve one of the enduring climate change riddles, we're going to need a lot of air from an awful lot of these bubbles.

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