12 March, 2008 Press releases

Ice core scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are joint winners of a major European science prize. The European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) – which retrieved two deep ice cores that have revealed how Earth’s climate behaved over the last 800,000 years – is one of three projects to be awarded the 2007  Descartes Prize for excellence in collaborative research. Three winning trans-national research teams share this year’s Descartes Prize of 1.36 million Euros. The prize is awarded annually to teams which have achieved outstanding scientific or technological results through collaborative research in any field of science.

The EPICA project brought together scientists and engineers from 10 European countries in a 10-year effort in one of the most hostile research environments on Earth. They drilled ice cores right through the Antarctic ice sheet at two locations, reaching bedrock at over 3200 metres depth in one case. The records of climate and atmospheric composition preserved in the ice have provided unique information about how climate works.

The research team has published its findings in nearly 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers, including several in the leading journals Nature and Science. Their data are widely quoted in many influential publications including the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Dr. Eric Wolff from the British Antarctic Survey, and the chair of the EPICA science group said:

“EPICA is an example of a successful European cooperation that made ground-breaking discoveries that could not have been achieved by working separately. The ice core research has shown us how our climate works, and therefore helps us to predict how it will work in the future. It is an honour for all of us to have this effort recognised by the Descartes Prize.”

The Prize will be awarded at a The European Science Awards 2007, Celebrating Excellence in European Research, in Brussels on Wednesday 12th March.

Issued by the British Antarctic Survey Press Office.

Linda Capper – tel: +44 1223 221448, mob: 07714 233744, email: l.capper@bas.ac.uk

BAS science Contact: Dr Eric Wolff, Tel +44 (0)1223 221491; mobile 07703 178115; email ewwo@bas.ac.uk

EU, DG Research Press Contact: Patrick Vittet-Philippe, Patrick.Vittet-Philippe@ec.europa.eu; Tel: +32 2 296 9056

Notes for Editors:

Winners will be announced on Wednesday 12 March at the European Science Awards ceremony that will take place in the Flagey building.

The Descartes Prize for collaborative Research has been awarded yearly, since 2000, to trans-national research teams which have achieved outstanding scientific or technological results through collaborative research in any field of science, including economics, social sciences and humanities.

The amount to be shared among the laureates of the research prize is 1,360,000 euros. There is a maximum 4 laureate teams. Four finalist teams receive 30,000 euros each. To date, 19 laureate projects and 10 finalist projects involving thousands of researchers from European and non-European countries have been awarded the prestigious prize.

British Antarctic Survey is a world leader in research into global issues in an Antarctic context. It is the UK’s national operator and is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council. It has an annual budget of around £40 million, runs eight research programmes and operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica. More information about the work of the Survey can be found at: www.antarctica.ac.uk

EPICA (European Ice Core Project in Antarctica) is a consortium of 10 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK). EPICA has been coordinated by the European Science Foundation (ESF), and funded by the participating countries and by the European Union.

The EPICA research team is using the unique climate record from ice cores to investigate the relationship between the chemistry of the atmosphere and climate changes over the past 800,000 years, especially the effects of carbon dioxide, methane and other components of the atmosphere. The results will be used to test and enhance computer models used to predict future climate.

EPICA succeeded in drilling two ice cores to the base of the Antarctic ice sheet, one at Dome C, the other in Dronning Maud Land.

The ice cores are cylinders of ice 10 cm in diameter that are brought to the surface in lengths of about 3 metres at a time. Snowflakes collect particles from the atmosphere, and pockets of air become trapped between snow crystals as ice is formed.

Analysis of the chemical composition and physical properties of the snow and the trapped air, including atmospheric gases such as CO2 and methane, shows how the Earth’s climate has changed over time.