ON THE CALDERONE GLACIER, Italy (AP) – Italian scientists are racing against time to study, scan and sample Europe’s southernmost glacier before it melts and disappears due to rising temperatures world.
The researchers conducted a preliminary radar survey of the Calderone glacier in Italy’s central Apennines on March 13 and plan to return next month to drill and collect samples there. The goal is to extract pieces of the glacier and store them in Antarctica for future study.
“This glacier can tell us the climatic and environmental story of the Mediterranean,” said researcher Jacopo Gabrieli, of the Italian National Research Council’s Institute of Polar Sciences.
The Associated Press accompanied Gabrieli and the team to the snow-capped glacier for the radar survey, arriving at the summit by helicopter and scouring the mountainside of the Gran Sasso massif. Snowshoe researchers probed the ground with electromagnetic equipment to determine how the glacier is stratified.
The survey will allow experts “to record the depth and morphology between snow and ice, and between ice and rock. In this way, we can measure the thicknesses and reconstruct the morphology of the bottom of the glacier,” said Stefano Urbini, a researcher at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, who also participated in the investigation.
The tiny Italian glacier, which has already split in two due to global warming, is a crucial thermometer of climate change and a treasure trove of atmospheric information. Glaciologists expect to find a layer of ice 25 meters (80 feet) thick beneath the snow and debris covering the glacier.
The Calderone samples will be kept in the “Ice Memory” world archive in Antarctica, a natural freezer that allows storage at -50 Celsius and is under construction at the Franco-Italian Concordia station.
According to the Italian research council, glaciers below 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) will disappear by 2100 if temperatures continue to rise at the current rate. The Calderone glacier, located 2,700 meters above sea level, could melt much earlier, by 2050 if drastic measures are not taken, experts say.
“Through these glaciers, through the interest we all have in these fantastical environments, we can explain how the climate is changing, why it is changing, how humans are impacting and what we can do to reduce our impact on our planet. “Gabrielli said.