March 25th, 2015

Paleoclimatology from Mount Ortles to the USA

Who?

Hi! My name is Giuliano and I come from Venosta Valley (Italy), a beautiful, tiny place in the heart of the European Alps. Given my background in environmental physics and my passion for the mountains, the ice and nature brought me to the new job I have started.

Me hiking in South Tyrol (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

Me hiking in South Tyrol (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

Where?
I work at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center in Columbus, Ohio, in the USA. This is one of the few research teams in the world that specializes in retrieving ice cores from high altitude areas and glaciers, such as the Alps. My project will last two years and will be summarized in a final report about climate and glaciers in the Bolzano Province.

The Byrd Research Center in Columbus, Ohio, USA (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

The Byrd Research Center in Columbus, Ohio, USA (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

Mount Ortles and Columbus, Ohio in the world

Mount Ortles and Columbus, Ohio in the world

What?
I am studying the past climate in the Alps through the chemical and physical analysis of the ice cores retrieved on top of Mount Ortles, Italy, in 2011 by an international team of scientists. These ice cores contain several hundreds of years of well preserved climatic information from present back to the past, stored neatly in layers, one for each year.

The summit of Mt. Ortles and its North Wall (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

The summit of Mt. Ortles and its North Wall (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

An ice core section of the Ortles core just extracted in the field (Photo: Paolo Gabrielli)

An ice core section of the Ortles core just extracted in the field (Photo: Paolo Gabrielli)

How?

After some training time in the laboratories to learn how to clean and prepare the ice for my analysis, I will start melting it using a new melting system that has just been built up here at the research center (I will tell you more about that in the next post).

The big freezer where the Ortles cores wait to be analyzed, together with 5 miles of other cores from all around the world (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

The big freezer where the Ortles cores wait to be analyzed, together with 5 miles of other cores from all around the world (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

fig. 7: The clean room where some of the analyses take place (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

fig. 7: The clean room where some of the analyses take place (Photo: Giuliano Bertagna)

Why?

Ice cores are incredibly well preserved archives for past climate. Ice, as final result of the evolution of snow deposited on a glacier, is a fingerprint of the atmosphere at the time the snow fell. It contains traces of the substances and signs of the climatic conditions of the analyzed time. Among other things, we study the ice to understand how pollutants of any kind (e.g. of anthropogenic origin) influenced and will influence the climate of our planet.