Come to the National Maritime Museum this October to find out more about ice cores, and meet the people who drill deep into Antarctica's history.

This event is part of Ice Worlds Festival, a three-day celebration of polar science and exploration at the National Maritime Museum.

Visit Greenwich from 28-30 October 2021, and celebrate the past, present and future of polar science.

Find out more

What can ice tell us about climate change?

Ice is like the Earth's hard drive. Each year that snow falls, the ice compacts and another layer of information is recorded.

In the polar regions, these layers of ice have been accumulating over hundreds of thousands of years. They can help to show us what the Earth's climate was like far back in time, from ice thickness to global temperatures.

Bubbles trapped in the ice can even tell us what the air was like: the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere for example, or the kind of pollutants released that year.

What is an ice core?

A sample of a drilled ice core in the process of being cut
A sample of a drilled ice core in the process of being cut (photo courtesy of British Antarctic Survey)

An ice core is a cylinder of ice drilled out of an ice sheet or glacier.

On the polar ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, scientists can extract ice cores up to 3km deep, taking us back 123,000 years in Greenland and over 800,000 years in Antarctica.

Each layer of an ice core is derived from snow that fell at a certain time in the past, and each layer is like a time capsule, containing information about what the atmosphere was like at the time the snow fell

Discovering Antarctica

Antarctic ice cores show us that the concentration of carbon dioxide was stable over the last millennium until the early 19th century.

It then started to rise. Now its concentration is now nearly 40 per cent higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

An infographic showing the atmospheric changes that can be captured in ice cores
(infographic courtesy of British Antarctic Survey)






Ice cores can also help us identify more recent changes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as the radioactive material released during nuclear testing in the 1950s, or the results of introducing unleaded petrol in the 1980s.

The UK polar research ship Sir David Attenborough lit up at night at the Cammell Laird shipyard

Ice Worlds

Visit Greenwich for a fantastic free festival of polar science and exploration, and see Britain's newest polar research ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough up close