©Sarah Del Ben - Wild Touch - Fondation UGA
©Sarah Del Ben - Wild Touch - Fondation UGA

ICE MEMORY in Bolivia: mission accomplished

An international team made of fifteen glaciologists, helped by thirty mountain carriers and guides, has just completed a successful extraction of two ice cores from the Illimani Mountain in Bolivia at 6,300 meters of altitude, despite extreme climatic conditions. These ice cores are in the midst of being brought back to France, and subsequently to the Antarctic. 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.


Logistics that rise to the challenge

The team is formed by French, Bolivian, Russian, American and Brazilian glaciologists. For Illimani, the project was more difficult in terms of logistic : the equipment wasn't transported by helicopter to the top of the glacier. All two tonnes of equipment was therefore 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 was entrusted to around twenty Bolivian high-mountain guides and porters.
Three weeks of work at 6,300 m (20,700 ft) was needed to set up the equipment and extract the two ice cores. This operation was both a human and a technological challenge, so the scientists took turns on the summit to achieve their objective. Once extracted, the tonnes of ice were entrusted, metre by metre, to the porters, who had carried 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.

©Sarah Del Ben - Wild Touch - Fondation UGA

The ice core from the Illimani which will be stored for future generations in the middle of the Antarctic plateau at the Franco-Italian base Concordia, is very precious:

  • precious because it constitutes a fundamental cultural heritage of the Andes,
  • precious because it contains 18,000 years of climate and environment history (at the moment that the ice was forming and developing at the rock base level, the prehistoric man was inventing the harpoon heads and was creating the wall paintings…well before the Egyptians civilizations or the invention of writing),
  • precious, finally, because it will allow researchers in the coming centuries to carry new kind of research.

The route up the slopes of Illimani

Illimani 3