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Polar ice cores: climate change messengers

Kapitel i bok
Författare Aant Elzinga
Publicerad i In Research Objects in their Technological Setting / ed. by B. Bensaude Vincent, S. Loeve, A. Nordmann and A. Schwarz - History and Philosophy of Technoscience series No. 10
Sidor 215-231
ISBN 978-1-848-93584-6
Förlag Routledge
Förlagsort London & New York
Publiceringsår 2017
Publicerad vid Institutionen för filosofi, lingvistik och vetenskapsteori
Sidor 215-231
Språk en
Länkar https://www.routledge.com/Research-...
Ämnesord Antarctica, Anthropocene, Arctic, epistemology, glaciology, Greenland, ice core, polar regions, ice core drilling, EPICA, climate change, paleoclimatology, politics of science, technoscience, IPCC, Willi Dansgaard, Claude Lorius, Hans Oeschger
Ämneskategorier Vetenskapsteori, Vetenskapshistoria, Klimatforskning


"Let us repeat: climate warming is one of the great challengines facing our civilization today, and the polar ice is a witness to and an essential actor in it. There are good reasons for ice researchers to be concerned, well beyond the recent International Polar Year, with the state of the Polar Regions, those sentinels of our environment." So write the three reknowned French paleoclimatologists Jean Jouzel, Claude Lorius and Dominique Raynaud in their book, The White Planet: The Evolution and Future of Our Frozen World (2013; in French 2008). Polar ice cores are important climate messengers. In the present chapter I follow the process wherethrough human actors engage with natural ones, the ice cores as witnesses of climate change patterns from hundreds of thousands of years in the past right up to the present. Researchers and technicians produce simulation models, and project prognoses of climate change scenarios into the next century and beyond. Polar ice cores do not exist as natural entities in their own right, they are new entities produced (created and retrieved) by humans with the help of special drills in the field at different sites in Greenland and Antarctica. Hence we call them technoscientific objects. For purposes of research these are cut up, sliced, and transported with care to various laboratories in a number of different countries where lengths are stored in series in temperature controlled ice core archives while some parts are analyzed in laboratories to determine variations over time of the composition of the "fossil" atmosphere annually encapsulated in the core's air bubbles formed in distant pasts. The chapter considers the whole spectrum of practices from ice core drilling, data construction, inerpretation, analysis and visualization in scientific papers to the activities of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regularly undertakes to strengthen an evidential base for poltiical decision making as well as urging outreach activities to inform broad publics. Emotions also come into play as scientists urge governments, industrialists and citizens to change behaviours in order to reduce current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases and mitigate global climate warming. The chapter elucidates the entire process from work on polar plateaus to the halls of decision-making powers. I illustrate the intertwined nature of science, technologies, economics and politics involved. Considerable emphasis is placed on detailing what happens at the "front end", in the field, where the driling and retrieval of ice cores takes place; the history of and scientific outcomes from key deep drilling sites in Antarctic and Greenland, together with the international character of the operations plus tensions emerging from geopolitical rivalries between some nations, is also outlined. Further, the discussion of course bears on ontological and epistemological aspects inherent in ice core research and paleoclimatology. This includes the the construction of proxy climate data based on engagement with ice cores both in "the trench" and in home laboratories. There is also the question of models introduced to contruct a chronology of the deeper part of the core, or what it means to "construct" a paleothermometer and how spatial relations translate into temporal ones. Anomalies appearing in the empirical record, e.g., past climatic events signifying rapid onset of warming prompt refinements in models and analytic techniques needed to decipher mechanisms of abrupt climate changes as well as uncertainties. Polar ice cores as techoscientific objects are thus fascinating sites for case studies in the history, philosophy and social studies of science. The three glaciologists cited above, finally, point to the role of polar ice as a primary sentinals of our environment in the current discourse on the Anthropocene.

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