UND Geomorphologist Jaakko Putkonen Continues The Hunt For World’s Oldest Ice

Geology Ph.D. student Marie Bergelin displays a UND banner at the site of her mentor Jaakko Putkonen’s National Science Foundation-funded ice core operation. The team is extracting ice cores that will be transported back to UND. Photo courtesy of Jaakko Putkonen.

Moving a large drilling rig by helicopter was one of Jaakko Putkonen’s major challenges in his latest expedition to Antarctica, completed early this year.

“It took a whole day to take it down and move it to a more remote location from where we started,” said Putkonen, a geomorphologist and director of the UND Harold Hamm School of Geology & Geological Engineering. With doctoral student Marie Bergelin, Putkonen and his team of colleagues and students from other universities were on the coldest continent to extract ice cores from a desert-like valley where there’s little snow cover.

“We received funding from the National Science Foundation to drill a massive ice body hidden under two feet of dirt to obtain samples of the interior of this glacier to establish its age without any hesitation,” said Putkonen, an experienced cold zone researcher. “We have dated the dirt on top of this ice, which by definition is younger than the ice itself; now we want to date the ice.”

The ice cores extracted this trip have a long journey to UND  from the valley, first by military transport plane to the U.S. research station at McMurdo, Antarctica, then by ship to California, then by refrigerator truck to North Dakota.

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