Italy seeks to study, sample Europe’s southernmost glacier

Riccardo Selvatico / CNR and Ca Foscari University via AP
Scientists walk on the slopes of the Mt. Gran Sasso d’Italia, on March 13.

ON THE CALDERONE GLACIER, Italy (AP) — Italian scientists are racing against time to study, scan and sample Europe’s southernmost glacier before it melts and disappears as a result of rising global temperatures.

Researchers conducted a preliminary radar survey of the Calderone glacier in Italy’s central Apennine Mountains on March 13 and plan to return next month to drill into it and take samples. The aim is to extract chunks of the glacier and store them in Antarctica for future study.

“This glacier can tell us the Mediterranean’s climate and environmental history,” said researcher Jacopo Gabrieli, of the Institute of Polar Sciences at the Italian National Council of Research.

The Associated Press accompanied Gabrieli and the team to the snow-covered glacier for the radar survey, arriving at the peak by helicopter and traipsing up and down the mountainside of the Gran Sasso massif. Researchers in snow shoes probed the ground with electromagnetic equipment to determine how the glacier is stratified.

The survey will allow experts to “record the depth and morphology between snow and ice, and between ice and rock. In this way we can measure the thicknesses and reconstruct the glacier bottom morphology,” said Stefano Urbini, researcher at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, who also took part in the survey.

The tiny Italian glacier, which already split into two as a result of global warming, is a crucial thermometer of climate change and a treasure trove of atmospheric information. Glaciologists are expecting to find a 25-meter thick layer of ice under the snow and debris that covers the glacier.

The samples from the Calderone will be held in the Ice Memory world archive in Antarctica, a natural freezer that allows storage at minus 50 C and is being built at the French-Italian Concordia station.

According to the Italian research council, glaciers located at an altitude of under 3,600 meters will disappear by 2100 if temperatures continue rising at the current pace. The Calderone glacier, which is located at an altitude of 2,700 meters, could melt much earlier, by 2050 if drastic measures aren’t taken, experts said.

“Through these glaciers, through the interest that we all have for these fantastic environments, we can explain how the climate is changing, why it is changing, how man is impacting and what we can do to reduce our impact on our planet,” said Gabrieli.