UMaine’s Laser Ice Lab Sheds Light on Climate Change

John Krinjak

Updated 8 months ago


For years, the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute has been collecting ice samples from all over the world.

“These cylinders of ice that are extremely valuable for us to be able to understand how the climate changed,” said Professor Paul Mayewski, the Institute’s director.

Now laser technology is revolutionizing that research.

“What we’ve done with this laser system is to dramatically change the resolution of our sampling,” said Mayewski.

In fact, on the first day they used laser instrumentation…

“We collected, believe it or not, more data than I had in my entire career prior to this,” said Mayewski.

That’s because instead of having to melt down ice samples, researchers use lasers to chisel away at tiny pieces of ice.

“Typically in a section of ice that’s about three feet tall, we would be able to collect 100 samples, do many, many measurements per sample. Now we can collect 50 thousand samples, levels per meter. In our field, it’s like discovering the atom,” said Mayewski.

Now scientists can more precisely determine how climate change happens.

“This means we can tell how many storms occurred in the summer, how long the summer was, where the storms came from, almost on a particular day,” said Mayewski.
“So if we can use this machine to say how climate was day-to-day in the past, that will really help to bring it to a level that people will understand, which I think will be really important,” said Nicole Spaulding, a postdoc at the Climate Change Institute.

The hope is people will take notice.

“Greenhouse gas warming has increased 100 times faster than it ever has in the last several hundred thousand years,” said Mayewski.

And laser ice research is showing the effects on the Arctic.

“Based on this new paper that we published, the warming of the Arctic that occurred in the last five years is equivalent to this tremendous abrupt climate change event that we saw 12,000 years ago,” said Mayewski.

Using ice from the past and laser technology from the present to gain a clearer picture of our future.


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