mission col du dôme

Ice Memory: mission accomplished on the Col du Dôme

The Ice Memory project’s first mission to protect the world’s ice heritage was launched in France on 15 August 2016 in the Mont Blanc massif, reaching successful completion two weeks later on 29 August. The international team, comprising French, Italian, Russian and American glaciologists and engineers coordinated by Patrick Ginot and Jérôme Chappellaz, spent two weeks at high altitude on the Col du Dôme (4,300 m (14,100 ft), Mont Blanc massif) drilling the first three ice cores for archiving.
carotte mission col du dôme

Three cores measuring 126, 128 and 129 metres in length were extracted and lowered down into the valley by helicopter. They are currently being stored in a cold storage facility near Grenoble. One of them will be analysed in Grenoble to build a database available to the entire world scientific community. The other two will be transported by ship before being transferred onto tracked vehicles on the high plateaus of Antarctica in 2020 for storage at the Concordia station, which is run by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) and its Italian partner, the National Antarctic Research Programme (PNRA).
nuit mission col du dôme

The Col du Dôme mission has demonstrated the feasibility of the ice core archive. On the heels of this success, a number of other countries are already looking to join the project and protect the ice memory of the glaciers to which they have access: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, the United States, Russia, China, Nepal and Canada.
Find out more about the drilling missions.

What can we learn from the Col du Dôme?

Previous studies on the Col du Dôme glacier have, for example, highlighted a considerable increase in sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions between 1925 and 1980 originating from the countries surrounding the Alpine region. Similar conclusions can be drawn from nitrate profiles, which indicate an increase in nitrogen oxide emissions related to agricultural activities in those same areas. Using these reconstructions of changes in atmospheric pollution, it has been possible to update emission inventories and generate regional policies aiming to limit human-induced pollutant emissions.

Mission logistics

The programme’s first drilling operation on the Col du Dôme began on 8 August 2016 at Grenoble’s Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics. The necessary equipment – coring equipment in particular – was finalised there along with all the logistics. For this operation, close to one tonne of equipment and 25 m3 of insulated boxes were transported between Grenoble and Chamonix, before being taken to the Col du Dôme by helicopter.

The researchers bivouacked in tents at the coring site.

The drilling equipment was protected beneath a large dome to enable work even in severe weather conditions, or at night if it was too warm during the day.