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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
Do you see the bubbles in this piece of Antarctic ice? The bubbles contain carbon dioxide and other gases that were trapped in the ice when formed thousands of years ago. Researchers carefully crush the piece and capture the gases that escape when the bubbles break. This allows them to better understand what carbon dioxide levels were over time.
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Courtesy of Oregon State University

Gas From the Past Gives Scientists New Insights into Climate and the Oceans
News story originally written on October 3, 2008

What was the atmosphere like over 20,000 years ago? Scientists have been studying ancient air to find out.

The ancient air is within tiny bubbles in 390 samples of ice from Antarctica. The bubbles tell what Earth's atmosphere was like 20,000 to 90,000 years ago.

Scientists studied how much carbon dioxide was in the bubbles. They compared the data with information about what Earth’s climate was like in the past. They also compared the carbon dioxide levels from the ancient air with information about what the ocean circulation was like at the time.

What did they find? They found that samples of ancient air that had more carbon dioxide were from times when Earth’s temperature was higher. They also found that these were times when ocean currents did not flow as quickly.

If it has happened in the past, it may happen in the future, say the scientists.  So we might see changes in ocean currents in the future as the amount of greenhouse gases continues to grow and the greenhouse effect gets stronger.

Last modified January 11, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

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