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Scientists race to read Austria’s melting climate archive

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Scientists race to read Austria's melting climate archive

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WEISSSEESPITZE, Austria (Reuters) – Scientists are rushing to read a rapidly melting weather archive thousands of years ago – inside Austria's alpine glaciers.

Photo: File: Plants grow near a lake in front of the Jamtalferner Glacier, near Galtuer, Austria, on September 11, 2019. REUTERS / Lisi Niesner

Mountain glaciers are retreating worldwide as average global temperatures rise – a phenomenon that will be described in detail in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week.

Austria's glaciers in the far east of the Alps are particularly sensitive to climate change and are shrinking even faster than most, making it more urgent to examine their contents before they disappear, said Andrea Fischer, the scientist in charge of the work.

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"It's about 1920 now. The rest is already gone – all from 1920 until now," Fischer of the Innsbruck Interdisciplinary Mountain Research Institute said of his work in search of Austria's oldest ice at the top of the Weissseespitze, a peak over 3,500 meters high.

"In the next two years, we will lose another 70 years (of ice and dice)," she added, describing the ice at the top of the glacier.

At the top of this mountain, Fischer and his colleagues drilled the bottom of the comparatively undisturbed glacier to extract samples of its ice, which has been analyzed for local weather information for thousands of years.

Fischer, whose work contributed to the IPCC report, believes the ice could be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old. Your samples are undergoing lab tests so far.

The lower layers are more densely packed than the upper layers, which means one meter of ice can include thousands of years of data.

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“The ice is only a few feet thick. In a few years, this dome will be completely free of ice, ”she said.

While analysis of other materials, such as tree trunks, may provide information on summer air temperatures, glacier ice is a rare source of precipitation information, she said.

And much of this will soon be lost.

The challenge is to take current data on how climate is changing and compare it with the information we have on climate in the previous centuries and millennia.

“The question is, how exceptional is this process? That is what we are determining with this ice drilling. "

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Report by Lisi Niesner; Additional reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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