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Science Museum Opens Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Science

Science Museum to display 700 year old Antarctic ice as major new gallery, atmosphere: exploring climate science, opens

From 4 December 2010, the Science Museum will be the first and only museum in the UK to display an Antarctic ice core, an object many scientists consider to be pivotal in the study of climate science. The ice core will be displayed in atmosphere… exploring climate science, a major new gallery opening at the Museum next month.

Ice cores are long cylinders of ice, drilled from the polar ice sheets and containing information about the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and the related state of the Earth’s climate system stretching back from the recent past to timescales of hundreds of thousands of years. Each ice core contains tiny bubbles of air which can be analysed to determine the levels of tiny quantities of different ‘trace gasses’ present, including CO2, when the air was trapped.

Professor Chris Rapley CBE, Director of the Science Museum, said, “Ice cores reveal a record of climate and environmental change covering many hundreds of thousands of years. In my experience the sight and story of the extraction of ice cores, and what they tell us, never fails to enthral. At a time when public understanding and engagement with climate change science is recovering from the effects of a turbulent year, these tools provide a wonderful means to communicate and captivate. At the Science Museum, research with our own visitors has shown much confusion about the science behind climate change. Addressing this was the motivation and guiding principle of the development of our new gallery, which presents the state of climate science in a clear and engaging way.”

“Being confronted with a piece of ice that fell as snowfall, tens, hundreds, or even hundreds of thousands of years ago, and being able to see for yourself the bubbles of ancient air trapped within it, is like travelling back in time and is a significant moment for anyone – including the climate scientists. I have witnessed the awe inspiring ‘epiphany moment’ these cores of ice can have on people as they view, or even better, feel and listen to an ephemeral object brought back to us from almost unimaginable depths of time.”

The ice core to be displayed in ‘atmosphere’ includes ice up to 700 years old containing air trapped in the year 1410 CE. It was collected in 1989, as part of a drilling project by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and a team from the USA, from a site on the Dyer Plateau, 2002m above sea level. When the ice core was collected the mean temperature on the Dyer Plateau was –21C. Once collected, the ice core was transported in an insulated box, which was taken from the drilling site by a Twin Otter aircraft to the BAS Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was then transported in a freezer container to the BAS headquarters in Cambridge. In the atmosphere gallery, the core will be displayed inside a specially adapted medical freezer.

Image: Climate Science Gallery Science Museum

Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD
Open daily 10.00 to 18.00, except 24-26 December

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