When your freezer breaks down, you might lose some leftovers or a box of your favorite popsicles. But when a scientist’s freezer malfunctions, the world stands to lose thousands of years’ worth of stored history. That’s what happened last week, when an equipment failure at the University of Alberta (UAB) melted ancient samples of Arctic ice.
An ice core is kind of like the vertical equivalent of a tree’s rings. The gas bubbles, sediment, and chemicals trapped in each of its many layers tell a story about the world at that particular moment in time.
UAB’s Canadian Ice Core Archive holds 12 cores—nearly 1 mile of ice—representing roughly 80,000 years of our planet’s history. Some of the samples have been in storage since the 1970s. Many of them are now considerably smaller than they were a few weeks ago.