Secrets in the Ice – Issue 21: Information

When we think of storing information today, we conjure up rows of giant computer servers that house endless streams of digital data. All the world’s information, it seems, will one day be preserved as ones and zeros in permanent, stable, and indestructible devices. So it may sound strange that ice, an ephemeral, unstable, and brittle substance, has been one of the world’s most permanent means of information storage. The cloud, in fact, has nothing on ice. Ice holds the key to understanding how the climate has changed over millions of years, and may change Earth in years to come. We asked a host of scientists to help us thaw out the information.

Climate Records

Frozen in Time: This meter-long West Antarctic Ice Sheet ice core was extracted in 2009 by a team from the United States. It shows fractures and bubbles, yielding information about past climate.Spruce Schoenemann/University of Washington

The hardened plains and peaks of ice that make up Greenland and the Antarctic preserve information about Earth’s former climates, going back millions of years. As snow accumulates in these regions year after year, the higher snow layers exert pressure on the lower ones, squeezing out air. Under pressure, snowflakes transform…
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