An international team formed by some fifteen glaciologists will arrive in Bolivia in early May. The operation in Bolivia shares the same goal as the mission in the Alps: extracting three ice cores from the summit of the Illimani glacier at an altitude of 6,300 m (20,700 ft) and transporting them back to France before continuing on to Antarctica. This glacier, the subject of study for the past 20 years for the IRD team, preserves 18,000 years of the climate and environmental history of the Andes, but it is also showing alarming signs of warming. After two months of preparations in Grenoble, the ICE MEMORY refrigerated container left France in early February 2017 on its way to Bolivia. Loaded with all the drilling equipment, insulated boxes and gear for setting up camp at 6,300 m (20,700 ft) atop Illimani, the container is en route to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, as the starting point for the second drilling campaign.
The ICE MEMORY refrigerated container leaving the Grenoble IGE
Logistics that rise to the challenge
The team is formed by French, Bolivian, Russian, American and Brazilian glaciologists. Patrick Ginot, the project’s coordinator, is already on the scene to organise all the logistics for the operation. For Illimani, the project will not be able to rely on transporting the equipment by helicopter to the top of the glacier. All two tonnes of equipment will therefore have to be physically carried from the foot of Illimani at 4,500 m (14,800 ft) to the coring site at 6,300 m (20,700 ft). No easy task, it will be entrusted to around twenty Bolivian high-mountain guides and porters. Three weeks of work at 6,300 m (20,700 ft) will be needed to set up the equipment and extract the three ice cores, each measuring 140 m in length. This operation presents both a human and a technological challenge, so the scientists will take turns on the summit to achieve their objective. Once extracted, the three tonnes of ice will be entrusted, metre by metre, to the porters, who will carry them down the glacier before storing them in the refrigerated container installed in La Paz. The Bolivia Ice Memory samples will then make their way to France for temporary storage with their Alpine cousins before the final shipping to Antarctica.