Ice Memory, an international program to preserve glacier archives

Mountain glaciers contain a wealth of information on past variations in climate and environment. Studying the scientific data trapped in these ice cores enables scientists to better understand the evolution of our planet. By creating an ice conservatory, Ice Memory aims to preserve a trace of the history of the atmosphere for the scientists of the future.

A word from the Sponsor

Using the Antarctic as a natural freezer to preserve ice cores is a very interesting idea as it saves energy. Moreover, this project is very important for future generations. Ice Memory will last for centuries; it’s a project that is comparable to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault*.

Susanne Adolphi

Engineer at Air Liquide’s Research & Technology Center, Frankfurt

Ice: State of emergency

Climate change could destroy these precious archives: “Ice contains tiny pockets of air, which tell us about the state of the air when the glacier was formed,” Managing Director of the Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA) Foundation, Anne-Catherine Ohlmann explains. To preserve these traces, the UGA Foundation is supporting the Ice Memory project. The project involves the CNRS, the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Université Grenoble Alpes, the Institut Polaire français Paul-Émile-Victor, Venice University, the Italian National Research Council, and the Italian National Antarctic Research Program. This Franco-Italian team tested the project’s technical feasibility on the Col du Dôme glacier in the Mont-Blanc massif in August 2016. Several 130 m ice cores were extracted right down to the bedrock, representing 200 years of climate archives …

Illimani: 18,000 years of climate history

The second, more complex mission, has already started in Illimani, a Bolivian glacier located in the Andes, whose highest point is at 6,400 m. “We can’t reach it by helicopter: the 4 tons of samples will be brought down to base camp by foot,” adds Anne-Catherine Ohlmann. French, American, Russian, and Brazilian glaciologists will therefore be able to study 18,000 years of Andean atmospheric history. The Air Liquide Foundation is contributing to the acquisition of equipment (refrigerated boxes, core drill, shipping containers, etc.) and containers for storage in Antarctica. This support is vital for a conservation project that does not benefit from the financing facilities of traditional research.

A glacier conservatory in the Antarctic

In order to give the project a global scope and define priorities, it was placed under the patronage of the French National Commission for UNESCO. Three ice cores will be extracted from each selected glacier and, from 2021, two of them will be stored at -54°C in a 300 m2 cave dug under the snow in Concordia, the Franco-Italian base in the Antarctic. “We still don’t know how to get the ice to reveal all its secrets. Safe from rising temperatures and deterioration, technologies of the future will enable researchers from all over the world to carry out novel research.”

To find out more

Ice Memory Project

* An underground vault on the Norwegian island of Spitzberg that safely preserves seed samples from all the planet’s food crops, thereby protecting genetic diversity.


UNESCO’s patronage gives the project international credibility, to ensure this heritage is a real asset for humanity, rather than just being the property of a researcher or laboratory. Following an international seminar in March 2017, under the patronage of UNESCO, the international community of glaciologists has got involved in ICE MEMORY. American, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Swiss, Brazilian, and Swedish scientists are preparing their own missions.

Jérôme Chappellaz
Co-founder of the Ice Memory project