Paris, March 12, 2008

European EPICA project for ice coring wins European Union Descartes Prize

The European EPICA project (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) was one of this year's winners of the European Union Descartes prize for research announced in Brussels on 12 March 2008. The prize is endowed with a total of 1.36 million euros and is awarded annually to up to 4 outstanding European trans-national projects in the natural sciences and humanities.
The EPICA project brought together 12 partners from ten different countries who took part in two ice coring expeditions in Antarctica that successfully retrieved past climate records vital for understanding current climatic changes. One of the ice corings measured temperature variations in Antarctica and greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere over more than 800,000 years, which is twice as long as the periods covered in previous projects. The second ice coring made it possible to study the coupling of the northern and southern hemispheres in greater depth.

The results of the EPICA project, which was set up with the backing of the European Science Foundation (ESF) and strongly supported by the European Union, is based on the research of scientists from ten countries (Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland) and their expertise in the various branches of ice core research and glaciology. The EPICA ice cores made it possible to measure the evolution over time of both temperature and snow precipitation, atmospheric aerosol composition, solar activity and the intensity of the magnetic field, the flux of extra-terrestrial material as well as past atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Two ice cores of more than 3000 meters were drilled in extremely remote areas through thick East Antarctic ice sheets over a period of years. Drilling operations were carried out in very extreme climatic conditions at Dome C (75°06'S, 123°24'E, mean annual temperature of -54.5°C) and in the area of Dronning Maud Land (75°00'S, 0°01'E, mean annual temperature of -44,6°C). The cores and samples were then transported to different European laboratories for analysis.

In the opinion of Hubertus Fischer, the German glaciologist responsible for coordinating the EPICA application for the Descartes Prize, “it was only the close collaboration between all the European working groups that made such an ambitious project logistically, technologically and scientifically possible.” He added that EPICA represents a unique opportunity for young scientists and Ph.D. students to carry out high-level research with colleagues from all over Europe and kickstart their own scientific careers.

France has been very closely involved in the deep coring operations in East Antarctica since the first 905 meter core drilled at Dome C during the austral summer of 1977-1978 by a team from Grenoble led by Claude Lorius. This sustained involvement was made possible initially by the top class logistics support provided by the French polar expeditions (EPF) up to the beginning of the 1990s and since then by the French Polar Institute Paul-Émile Victor (IPEV). This institute, together with its Italian counterpart, ENEA, has assumed responsibility for the provision of the heavy logistics support required by the Dome C drilling operation where the permanent Franco-Italian station Concordia is located. The technical team at the Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Géophysique de l'Environnement (LGGE Grenoble, UMR CNRS-UJF, part of the Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers in Grenoble) played a vital role in the development and setting up of the corer used during the two EPICA drillings, together with other geophysical measuring appliances.

The French teams, working together with their European counterparts, have been very active in the scientific exploitation of the two ice core drillings. Their work is coordinated by LGGE, which works on the analysis of gas and chemical traces, the study of the mechanical and physical properties of the ice and the modeling of the ice cores. The Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement (LSCE, UMR CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, part of the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace) in Saclay is involved in the reconstruction of climatic parameters, essentially from the isotopic analysis of the ice and the air bubbles contained in it, while CSNSM (Centre de Spectrométrie Nucléaire et de Spectrométrie de Masse, UMR IN2P3/CNRS-université Paris-Sud 11 in Orsay) has focused on the measurement of beryllium-10, a rare isotope that should enable scientists to retrace the evolution of solar activity and the earth’s magnetic field in bygone times.

These three laboratories (LGGE, LSCE and CSNSM) have been, with IPEV, the major drivers of the success of the EPICA project, which was led by Jean Jouzel (LSCE/IPSL) from 1995 to 2001. Dominique Raynaud (LGGE) has been coordinating the European EPICA-MIS project since 2005, which currently contributes to funding. At the national level, EPICA has been and still is backed by various INSU(1) programs and by IPEV, by CEA, by the Balzan and Louis-D.- Institut de France prizes and by an ANR project.


1) Institut National des Sciences de l'Univers du CNRS



Grant Raisbeck – Tel: 0169155264

Gérard Jugie – Tel: 0298056502

Jérôme Chappellaz – Tel: 0476824264
Dominique Raynaud – Tel: 0476824245

Jean Jouzel – Tel: 0684759682
Valérie Masson-Delmotte – Tel: 0169087715


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