Capsule of 1765 air reveals ancient histories hidden under Antarctic ice

A new exhibit that shows the hidden history of polar ice is centred around an ampoule of Antarctic Air from 1765. It was created by Cop26 Climate Conference in Glasgow.
Wayne Binitie, an artist, has been working with British Antarctic Survey scientists (BAS) for the past five-years on an amazing collaboration. They drill, analyse, and preserve cylinders made of ice from the bottom of the ice sheet to record past climate changes.

Binitie was able to show in Glasgow, at what is widely recognized to be a pivotal time for the planet's air quality, the purest possible air from another such moment just before modern humans began their unwitting destruction and destabilization of the atmosphere.

The Glasgow Science Centre's Polar Zero exhibit features a cylindrical glass sculpture that houses the air. It was created precisely from 1765, the date many historians believe marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The second cylinder contains an ice core that is tiny in size and contains air bubbles that were trapped when snow fell and compressed. These bubbles now show the alarming rate at which atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased since 1765.

Binitie, a PhD student in Arts and Humanities Research Council funded at the Royal College of Art, said that the topic's scale and complexity can make it seem distant and even apocalyptic. It is essential that people have something tangible that they can hold on to.

Dr Robert Mulvaney (glacierologist), was responsible for drilling out the ice for BAS. Every year, Antarctica sees snow fall but there is no melting. The snow accumulates and then compresses the years of snow below. We were driving deeper into the past, a little like counting the rings on a large tree.

It helps that we sometimes know that a volcano erupted in a specific year, and that we might find evidence. It's not as difficult as you might think to use your drills to locate a specific year.

Graham Dodd, global engineering specialist Arup, said that putting together an exhibit that was based on an ampoule filled with air and a melting core of ice proved to be a challenging technical challenge. It is difficult to exhibit an ice core without it completely melting. This technical feat requires careful calculations and creative thinking.

Polar Zero visitors will be able to hear ancient air bubbles bursting as the ice core emerges. They can also touch the iced water and taste it. He describes it as a multisensory experience in a moment when it seems more urgent than ever to question what it means touch and be in touch the Earth.