One way to study Earth’s past environmental conditions is to look at ice cores recovered from glaciers. Every year a layer of snow accumulates on glaciers, like a page in a history book, and eventually turns to ice. Like reading the pages of a history book, analyzing the layers in a glacial ice core for specific chemical and physical components is a way of “reading” the environmental changes of the past. Information from ice cores collected from Greenland and Antarctica already has provided important historical clues toward a better understanding of modern global environmental changes (Dansgaard and Oeschger, 1989; Lorius and others, 1989).
Environmental changes are of major concern at low- or mid-latitude regions of our Earth simply because this is where 80 to 90 percent of the world’s human population live. Ice cores collected from isolated polar regions are, at best, proxy indicators of low- and mid-latitude environmental changes. Because polar icecore research is limiting in this sense, ice cores from low- and mid-latitude glaciers are being used to study past environmental changes in order to better understand and predict future environmental changes that may affect the populated regions of the world.
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USGS Numbered Series
Global ice-core research: Understanding and applying environmental records of the past