The mission to the coldest place on the earth that modified the historical past of humanity | Science | EUROtoday

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It was one of the crucial epic scientific expeditions of all time. In late 1984, on the peak of the Cold War between the atomic powers of the United States and the Soviet Union, an American C-130 landed in probably the most legendary place in Antarctica: the inhospitable Russian Vostok base, put in within the coldest nook of the planet. A yr earlier, a document temperature of 89.2 levels beneath zero had been recorded there. The plane was carrying three French scientists on board – Claude Lorius, Michel Creseveur and Jean Robert Petit – with a unprecedented mission: to gather ice from time immemorial to seek out out what the Earth's distant previous was like and predict the way forward for mankind.

Pictures from the time present that on this hostile place vodka flowed, accordions performed and the crimson flag with the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union waved. The Leningrad Mining Institute had chosen Vostok, close to the geomagnetic south pole, as a hellish testing floor for its new drilling applied sciences in quest of Antarctic oil. The base stank of kerosene from the equipment, which had already managed to bore a gap greater than two kilometres deep within the ice. Two many years earlier, in 1965, the glaciologist Claude Lorius had had a revelation whereas ingesting whisky with historic ice on the French Antarctic base Dumont d'Urville. He appeared into his glass and noticed the bubbles rising from the ice cubes. What if the trapped air contained details about the ambiance and local weather on Earth hundreds of years in the past? What if this information revealed the destiny of humanity?

Lorius' obsession since that whiskey was to acquire virgin ice from the depths of Antarctica, so he seduced the Soviets into letting him go to Vostok and satisfied the Americans to move it to the enemy base. The French glaciologist Jean Jouzel completely remembers the triumphant arrival of the Antarctic ice samples to his laboratory in Saclay, close to Paris, in the beginning of 1985. It was a fragmented column of two,083 meters, which at its oldest finish was 160,000 years outdated. Jouzel by no means set foot in Vostok, however he analyzed its entrails and astonished the world. The outcomes of his analysis, revealed on the quilt of the journal Nature On October 1, 1987, they have been the definitive affirmation that the rise in carbon dioxide (CO₂) within the ambiance was inflicting temperatures to rise.

Cover of 'Nature' magazine in October 1987, showing the drilling rigs at the Vostok Antarctic base.
Cover of 'Nature' journal in October 1987, displaying the drilling rigs on the Vostok Antarctic base.Jean Jouzel

“It was a magnificent adventure, from a human point of view and also from a political point of view. We had meetings with Soviets and Americans, in the middle of the Cold War. The friendship between scientists was key to making it possible,” recollects Jouzel, sitting in a monumental room on the San Nicolás Palace in Bilbao. On June 20, this 77-year-old glaciologist acquired the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award — price 400,000 euros — along with 4 youthful colleagues who adopted his path in Antarctica and Greenland, shedding gentle on the origins of local weather change.

Glaciologist Jean Jouzel at the San Nicolás Palace, the Bilbao headquarters of the BBVA Foundation, on June 19.
Glaciologist Jean Jouzel on the San Nicolás Palace, the Bilbao headquarters of the BBVA Foundation, on June 19.Fernando Domingo-Aldama

The man behind the inspiring whisky, Claude Lorius of the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), died in March 2023 on the age of 91, however the Soviet colleague who opened the doorways of Vostok to him continues to be alive: the legendary glaciologist Vladimir Mikhailovich Kotliakov of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Kotliakov, 92, solutions EL PAÍS's questions in Russian, in emails written within the Cyrillic alphabet. “Relations with French scientists over the years were very close and friendly. We didn't feel any Cold War,” he says. Kotliakov, a pioneer of Russian polar analysis, downplays the significance of surviving within the coldest place on the planet. “I have visited Soviet bases in the interior of Antarctica and have been outdoors in temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius, but I must say that if you are well dressed and do physical exercise, such as digging a hole in the snow with a shovel, you can work for even three hours,” he says.

The journey of the millennia-old ice from Vostok to Jouzel's laboratory was an epic one. An American aircraft transported the samples from the center of Antarctica to a Soviet ship, which took them to the French coast, the place a refrigerated truck took them to the Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies within the Paris area. Jouzel's crew instantly analysed the deuterium, a heavy type of hydrogen that makes up the water molecule. The hotter it’s, the extra deuterium there’s within the snow, with a mathematical ratio that allowed temperatures over the previous 160,000 years to be calculated exactly.

Ice cores stored at Vostok base during the 1984-1985 expedition.
Ice cores saved at Vostok base through the 1984-1985 expedition.Michel Creseveur / Lorius Fund / CNRS

“Our discovery came at an extremely important time,” Jouzel factors out. Another group of specialists, led by the American meteorologist Jule Charney, had already warned in 1979 that doubling the carbon dioxide within the ambiance would elevate the world temperature by as much as three levels, based on simulations. The Vostok information confirmed that this was not hypothesis. That two-kilometer ice column revealed a dance of temperatures during the last 160,000 years, from a minimal of 9 levels beneath the common in 1987 to a peak of two levels above. The planet can start to heat naturally attributable to a refined variation in its orbit across the Sun, however this phenomenon is accelerated as a result of, by receiving higher photo voltaic radiation, the oceans and soil launch extra CO₂ via the decomposition of natural matter. Today, it’s humanity itself, with the burning of oil, gasoline and coal, that fuels the greenhouse impact. Only a yr after the quilt of NatureJouzel factors out, the United Nations General Assembly supported the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The third vice-president of the Spanish Government, Teresa Ribera, is aware of the French glaciologist properly. They labored collectively between 2014 and 2018 on the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, a suppose tank based mostly in Paris. Jouzel was the president and Ribera, the director, till she returned to Spain to be Minister of Ecological Transition. “Paleoclimate, the study of past climate, is fundamental to understanding its evolution. The contribution of Jean Jouzel and his colleagues in the 1980s was key to showing the correlation between climate and greenhouse gas concentration,” Ribera celebrates. “Jouzel became a key reference in the first IPCC assessment report, which was decisive in achieving the first multilateral treaty to combat climate change adopted a few years later at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992,” applauds the minister.

Drilling towers at the Soviet Vostok base during the 1984-1985 campaign.
Drilling towers on the Soviet Vostok base through the 1984-1985 marketing campaign.Michel Creseveur / Lorius Fund / CNRS

The hardy Vostok drillers didn’t cease at 2,083 metres. In January 1998, one other gap reached 3,623 metres, a depth adequate to substantiate that CO₂ and methane within the ambiance have been linked to temperature for 420,000 years. “I admire the Soviets. They continued drilling even in winter, with temperatures below 80 degrees below zero. They were formidable,” Jouzel recollects with a nostalgic tone. The French and Russian scientists revealed their new leads to the journal Nature in 1999, with a warning to humanity: “The current atmospheric concentration of these two important greenhouse gases appears to be unprecedented in the past 420,000 years.”

Jouzel recollects that Madrid hosted an important IPCC assembly from 27 to 29 November 1995. Delegates from oil-producing international locations corresponding to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait fought over each phrase to water down the group of specialists’ second report and downplay the human impression on the planet’s local weather. “It was in Madrid that I proposed introducing the term ‘climate surprise’,” recollects the French glaciologist. After their discoveries within the Vostok ice, analyses by Jouzel and his colleagues in Greenland had documented sudden variations of as much as 16 levels in temperature in just some many years, tens of hundreds of years in the past.

Glaciologist Jean Jouzel cuts ice during an expedition to Greenland in July 1992.
Glaciologist Jean Jouzel cuts ice throughout an expedition to Greenland in July 1992.Unidentified writer / Lorius Collection / CNRS

The newest IPCC report, revealed simply over a yr in the past, warned that the burning of fossil fuels and unsustainable use of vitality and land has already prompted world warming of 1.1 levels above pre-industrial ranges. This enhance has generated extra excessive warmth waves, torrential rains, drought and megafires. “We are heading towards a 3-degree increase and, in some regions, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to adapt. If we do not reduce emissions now, it is a terrible act of selfishness towards the youngest,” warns Jouzel.

The climate has gone loopy even at Vostok. On March 18, 2022, thermometers on the Russian base recorded an uncommon temperature of 17.7 levels beneath zero, the very best for that month since information started in 1958. It is a document that shatters the earlier most, recorded in 1967, by 15 levels. It is simply too early to speak a few climatic shock, however people are additionally warming up the coldest nook of the world.

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