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Project January 31, 2023

COLDEX: The Search for Earth’s Oldest Ice


Lab manager Mike Kalk extracts carbon dioxide from a sample of ancient Antarctic ice in Oregon State University's Ice Core and Quaternary Geochemistry Lab. Image by Christian Elliott. United States, 2022.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $25 million to a group of top U.S. paleoclimatologists to establish the Center for Oldest Ice Exploration. COLDEX's goal is to extend the existing ice core record (which only goes back 800,000 years) to 3 million years, when we know temperatures on Earth were last as high as they're expected to rise over the next 50 years. It's a massive, decade-long undertaking, involving aircraft with ground-penetrating radar and drills that can cut through kilometers of ice accumulated over millions of years.

This project covers COLDEX's first year, as polar scientists from across the country come together for the first time to plan the mission and reckon with some of their field’s entrenched social problems. Antarctica has long been a setting for “heroic” scientific expeditions—a harsh frontier from which women have historically been excluded. Part of COLDEX’s mandate from the NSF involves diversifying the mainly white, male-dominated field.


A woman walks along a dock with a boat nearby


Connected Coastlines

Connected Coastlines


yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change