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DRI scientists using ice to shape the future of climate research

RENO, Nev. -- Global warming is a hot topic, but scientists at the Desert Research Institute are turning to ice for answers about our climate.

"You have only one shot," DRI scientist Michael Sigl said. "You have one piece of ice and you melt it once and you have to get out all the data."

Sigl said ice freezes time, and gives scientists a snapshot of the climate dating back thousands of years. So he was able to use it to study how 116 volcanic eruptions during the past 2,000 years affected the global climate.

"That's really what this is all about is what is causing climate or what is causing weather," DRI Research Professor Joe McConnell said.

McConnell invented a new way to analyze the ice: using a slow-melt system that breaks down the chemical content. "The lab that we have here is the only one like it in the world," McConnell said. "I don't think anyone would argue it's the most sophisticated ice core lab in the world."

They are using their research into the past to test current scientific models and increase their confidence in the results. "The main reason why you study the past is to improve our knowledge of the present and of the future," Sigl said.

"If we can establish very accurate records from ice cores and other proxies that tell us what happened in the past, then those models need to be able to replicate what happened in the past," McConnell said.

That will improve future projections, including the potential effects of greenhouse gases on global warming.

McConnell said there is no end to what they can find frozen in time. "Almost every day, really quite often, we get to make discoveries, things that people have never found before."

"It's a pretty exciting kind of work to do."