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It was the first sample older than 800,000 years, from a crucial time when glacial periods were switching from occurring every 40,000 years or so to every 100,000 years. The environment was harsh, with constant wind shearing their clutch of tents.
“Cold is one thing,” says Princeton geochemist John Higgins, “but windy cold is just another beast.” Yet they were able to drill the remaining 20 meters to bedrock, and found the ice that, along with several other new cores, yielded the ancient samples.
Bubbles in the ice contain greenhouse gases from Earth’s atmosphere at a time when the planet’s cycles of glacial advance and retreat were just beginning, potentially offering clues to what triggered the ice ages.
That information alone makes the value of the sample “incredible,” says David Shuster, a geochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is unaffiliated with the research.
They ran out of time after 128 meters, before they reached bedrock, but the unfinished core yielded some chunks of ice that were 1 million years old.“Ice that’s this old really makes people stand up and notice,” he says.