Ice Memory / Diary

11th June 2021
Thank you and see you from the most beautiful terrace in the world

and so, with the last crate loaded on the refrigerated truck, our drilling campaign on Colle Gnifetti ends. 10 days of activity, two deep cores up to the basal rock 81 m below and another three shallow ones, between 15 and 20 m. Approximately 0.9 m3, over 700 kg of ice sections, now neatly enclosed in 18 thermal boxes. Before closing the tailgate of the truck that is already lit and ready to go, I look at them and think about the story they contain. History of the climate and environment of these mountains, of these valleys, of the plains below, of the whole of Europe. A unique and unrepeatable archive. More than 10,000 years of places, events, men and people. Some samples will stop in Venice, others will go to Villigen, Switzerland, for chemical, biological and isotopic analyzes. The best quality deep carrot will make a much longer journey, reaching DomeC on the Antarctic plateau. Here it will be kept, under the aegis of an International Foundation, in a specially prepared cave, safe from the effects of climate change, as a gift for future generations. If our beautiful glaciers by 2100 really, as expected, will almost completely disappear from the Alps, so will not be for the memory preserved in them! Among the many carrots, that of Colle Gnifetti will be among the first to be transferred, probably as early as next year. And, due to its importance, it could only be so!

Now that the tension finally disappears and before the resumption of the daily routines goes to fade the emotions, taking me back to the grumpy mountain bear as they say I am (?!), I let the feelings flow and put on paper all the thanks that, sincere , they come from my heart.

First of all to the Monterosa Refuge Society. I think I will always remember the first phone call with Giuliano. Those ten seconds of silence after my babbling, that of him “give me a few days but I think so, it can be done”, his countless “forget it, just tell me what you need to do”. So it has always been. Erica, splendid caretaker of the Gnifetti hut, who with her precision, professionalism and her smile has accompanied us throughout our adventure (indeed, much earlier!). Claudio and Sunda, still (our) custodians, this time at the Capanna Margherita. True idols, with their highest pizza in Europe brought still hot from the oven to the coring tent! Unfortunately, only through the stories of all the guests can I give credit to the staff of the Pastore Refuge for the warmth and the wonderful delicacies. To Susanna, president of the CAI of Varallo, who warmly welcomed us into her shelters. To the Skyaviation company, with Gianluca and all the pilots and aeronautical technicians who have worked with us: a show and a safety to fly together, even at the limit of visibility, in the splendid setting of the Rosa! To Andrea and the other Guides of Alagna, guardians of the Rosa glaciers and witnesses of their changes, constant and irreplaceable references before and during all our activities. To the Monterosa 2000 Company, with Andrea and Claudio, for collaboration and access to the cableways. To Mayor Roberto, immediately enthusiastic both in listening to our stories and in providing us with support and assistance.

An entire valley, that of Valsesia, enthusiastically available to us and to the ICE MEMORY project. Something, for us, truly unprecedented that warms our hearts and empowers us, encouraging us to do better and more!

To Salvatore, ARPA Piemonte meteorologist who updated us daily on the weather evolution both in the valley and at high altitude. To Michele and Marco, friends of the University of Turin, for their availability and hospitality at the Mosso Institute. To Riccardo: as a videomaker already a lot of stuff, but actually much more for us, both from a professional and a human point of view. To our Guide Paolo, a real security in the field, a generous and tireless worker when he is needed, a jester at times, a true friend always.

To Carlo, our Director, the mind but above all the heart of ICE MEMORY. To all my colleagues, starting with Andrea and Fabrizio, irreplaceable companions both on the glacier and in moments of leisure. To Enrico, the war machine of communication. To Rachele, Federico, Marco and Angela, without whose contribution it would not have been possible to organize the Monte Rosa field experience… and much more! To Valentina, Pamela and Elisa, administrators of our Institute. Discussions and daily scorns, but those that are given to each other only when, in the end, they love each other and respect each other.

To all the friends who accepted the invitation to participate in the Monte Rosa field experience, both to those present and to those who, due to the constant postponement, could no longer be there. With some she was a good reunion, with others a splendid first time. In any case, a beautiful moment of union between the whole scientific community and not only that on these mountains it operates daily with passion, competence and dedication. At least for us, a seed that can only bear fruit and something truly beautiful, absolutely worth repeating.

To the journalists and the media who followed us, some enthusiastically on the field, some unfortunately for previous commitments only remotely. ICE MEMORY is, among other things, the science that comes out of the laboratories and gets closer to people. We have believed it and we believe it. And apparently you too.

Last, but certainly not least, to our sponsors AKU and KARPOS. Not only suppliers of superlative technical products, but above all companies made up of exceptional people, enthusiastic and generous in supporting us and the ICE MEMORY project. Without you none of this would have been possible. Thank you!

I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone but it sure will be. Because you have been so many. Thank you, thank you very much to all of you. And with the photo of this last splendid sunrise that Rosa, from the most beautiful terrace in the world, wanted to give us yesterday before flying away, see you soon!


10th June 2021
Successful mission! Save the earth’s climatic ‘memory’

Positive outcome for the international Ice Memory project on Monte Rosa. Working on the Gorner Glacier for five days at an altitude of 4,500 meters, the scientists took two shallow ice cores and two cores over 82 meters deep. In the segment closest to the rock, the sample could contain information on the climate and the environment up to 10,000 years ago. If the analyzes confirm this, it would mean that the oldest ice in the Alps will be preserved in Antarctica.

Il racconto della missione…

9th June 2021
We go back home!

Yesterday the drilling works started very early: wake up at 5.00 and start drilling at 6.30. At around noon the rock for the second ice memory core was reached and a surface core was subsequently drilled which will be analyzed at the Paul Scherrer Institut. With these last two perforations, the Ice Memory mission on Monte Rosa ends. Scientists are currently dismantling the field and the helicopter is expected to arrive in the afternoon to load materials and return all personnel to the valley. In the coming days we will publish a detailed report on the outcome of the mission.

7th June 2021
We continue to drill. Reached the depth of 82 meters.

On the Monte Rosa glacier the climatic conditions change rapidly and in the space of a few hours you pass from the scorching sun to the intense cold with snowfall. Scientists keep drilling. It takes 4 hours of work, partly even muscle, to get a core 14 meters deep!
After three days of hard work the final depth of 82 meters was finally reached. Everyone was able to observe the last sections of the ice core which could be that of 10,000 years ago. What secrets are trapped in this very ancient ice? Thanks to this perforation, a future generation of scientists will have a valuable archive to study and answer this question. This makes everyone proud of the work they are doing.

4th June 2021
The expedition restart

Finally the good weather! The Italian-Swiss expedition involved in the Colle Gnifetti drilling campaign reached the Gnifetti Refuge (3650 m) on Tuesday 1 June where the team spent two days acclimatizing before reaching 4500 m at Colle Gnifetti.

The Swiss team is led by Theo Jenk (expedition leader) and includes Margit Schwikowski and Francois Burgay. They will be joined by the Italian team of Jacopo Gabrieli, Fabrizio De Blasi and Andrea Spolaor. Our mountain guide is Paolo Conz with Riccardo Selvatico as official photographer and videomaker. Sabine Harbeke, theater director and artist of Polarts.

The first night at the Gnifetti Refuge ended with a bit of a headache! A common side effect when sleeping at high altitudes. Under these conditions, the hemoglobin in the red blood cells struggles to provide enough oxygen. The best and easiest thing to do to avoid the worst side effects is to drink lots of water.

Yesterday morning, despite the unknown weather conditions, the team of researchers was able to fly safely to Colle Gnifetti and immediately got to work. The drilling tent has been set up, the snow holes have been dug into which the ice core boxes will be stored once the coring has been carried out and the drill has been tested.

The researchers reported that everything went smoothly and managed to recover about 10 meters of ice. The presence of various ice lenses was detected, an indication that melting and freezing processes are already underway at this altitude. This is an unexpected and at the same time disturbing first observation that reinforces the importance of the Ice Memory project: time is running out!

12th May 2021
Scientific activities still suspended

Unfortunately, the conditions of strong instability persist: a large cavity of Atlantic origin continues to convey wet currents on the Western Alps, causing widespread bad weather with intense rainfall in the Rosa area (this morning the thickness of fresh snow at Capanna Gnifetti exceeded one meter) .
ARPA Piemonte forecasts indicate a temporary improvement in the weather for the next few days, immediately followed by a new unstable phase starting from Saturday with intensifying winds from the North and irregular cloudiness and scattered rainfall on the border ridges.
“The conditions are not yet in place to start our drilling campaign” inform the researchers, “and we just have to wait patiently for the arrival of high pressure in the Western Alps”.
This prolonged delay in the start of operations hinders and complicates all the activities of the researchers and support personnel and forces the Ice Memory team to review the programs day after day.
The start date of operations for now has been moved to Tuesday 25 May.

05th May 2021
Press conference of the Ice Memory team in Alagna Valsesia

Awaiting favorable weather conditions for the mission to resume, a press conference was held today in the Alagna Valsesia Theater, in which the Italian team presented the scientific project to the local community. The mayor of Alagna Valsesia Roberto Veggi welcomed and confirmed full harmony and support for the mission. Barbante Carlo Barbante, director of the CNR Institute of Polar Sciences and lecturer at the Ca ‘Foscari University of Venice, presented the international Ice Memory project and future developments. A weather forecaster from Arpa Piemonte described the weather situation and forecasts for the next few days. Jacopo Gabrieli (Cnr / Ca ‘Foscari), explained how a high altitude core drilling mission takes place and finally Fabrizio De Blasi (Cnr / Ca’ Foscari) investigated the state of alpine glaciers, the prospects of retreat caused by climate change and the situation of the Gorner glacier of Monte Rosa. Among the support interventions that followed, also those of the CAI of Varallo and the Alpine Guides of Alagna.
(ph: Studio Frozenlight)

04th May 2021
Bad weather conditions the mission of the Ice Memory team on Colle Gnifetti

The weather conditions of these days have not yet allowed to start the activities of the Ice Memory project. Not even the forecasts for next week seem to offer sufficient guarantees. Already from today on Colle Gnifetti, according to the forecasts developed specifically by Arpa Piemonte, the weather will be very variable with intermittent snowfalls and strong winds from the north, on average around 50-60 km / h but with gusts even over 100 km / h. With these conditions, not only is the transfer by helicopter of researchers and equipment to Colle Gnifetti unthinkable, but it would also become difficult to ensure the operation and above all the safety of the personnel in the field. Despite the professionalism and enthusiasm that move the entire team of researchers, the decision to postpone it to the first useful window is inevitable.

On the other hand, the press conference on Wednesday 5th May at 11.30 at the Teatro di Alagna is confirmed and will be an opportunity to illustrate the Ice Memory project and make a new point on the situation. Those wishing to participate in the press conference are advised to give a confirmation nod to the press officer: Enrico Costa (337 1050858).


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