Princeton Researchers Go to the End of the Earth for the World’s Oldest Ice

Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

When one is already in possession of the world’s oldest chunk of ice, perhaps it’s only natural to want to go older.

John Higgins, a Princeton University assistant professor of geosciences, led a team of researchers who reported in 2015 the recovery of a 1-million-year-old ice core from the remote Allan Hills of Antarctica, the oldest ice ever recorded by scientists. Analysis of the ice showed that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere was higher than in the oldest ice core previously, which was 800,000 years old. It also confirmed that atmospheric carbon dioxide and Antarctic temperatures have been directly proportional — as one increased so did the other. The ice is stored in Princeton’s Guyot Hall in a freezer kept at -30 degrees Celsius.

But Higgins wants to go further back in time. He and four other researchers returned to the Allan Hills for seven weeks from mid-November to mid-January hoping to come away with even older ice, preferably 1.5 million to 2 million years old. The work is supported by a $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.