LA PAZ – Saying goodbye isn’t always sad, as in the case of two large pieces of glacier taken from Illimani, the second tallest mountain in Bolivia, that will be taken to Europe to preserve and decipher the 18,000 years of history frozen inside them.
These “ice witnesses” were extracted by the Ice Memory team from the ice-capped mountain near La Paz, whose peak stands 6,432 meters (21,089 feet) above sea level. They will be taken at the end of the month to France, so that in a few years they can be preserved in Antarctica, “the best freezer in the world,” as it is called by the leader of this scientific expedition, Patrick Ginot,
The idea was to take away three equal pieces, but under the powerful winds and snowfall – two unexpected guests at this time of year – it was possible to extract only two cylinders approximately 140 meters long and 10 centimeters (3 3/4 inches) in diameter, and a smaller 25-meter sample.
Ginot and his colleagues were camped out on the mountain peak for two weeks, and between the first and second perforations, the wind blew away the tents where they kept their drills and forced them to remain several days sheltered in their tents.
According to the research director of France’s National Scientific Research Center (CNRS), Jerome Chappellaz, there were eight people of French, Russian and Brazilian nationalities working shifts on the peak.
“This isn’t an expedition, it’s not just climbing to the summit and that’s it – no, it’s staying there and doing scientific research,” Chappellaz said.
Along with the research team were 15 hearty bearers who, according to Chappellaz, “have tramped back and forth 15 times between the campsite halfway up the mountain and the mountaintop, toting between 20 and 30 kilos (44 and 66 pounds) of three-meter pieces of the ice cylinders through winds gusting up to 100 kph (62 mph).
The containers will be shipped by boat, and when they reach the French university, one of the Bolivian ice cylinders will be used to extract all the information that today’s technology is capable of about climate, the history of the glacier, its composition, climate change and other factors.
From there, if nothing goes wrong, in 2020 the other cylinder will be off on another trip, this time to a cave in Antarctica, a big container that will be used to store the testimonies of other mountains around the world like Mont Blanc in the Alps and Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus.