A 22,000-Year-Old Ice Core Melted Because of a Broken Freezer

Well, shit.

by Jordan Pearson
Apr 6 2017, 6:36pm

Flickr/Bodie Strain

Freezers are a miracle of modernity, a testament to how humans can forge the world as we see fit. Guava juice in Idaho? No problem—until these machines break. Then, fuck freezers. Fuck freezers for melting my Melona bars, and fuck freezers for spoiling the steak I was going to treat myself with.

And fuck the freezer at the University of Alberta, which broke down and melted a bunch of ice cores in an archive that contains samples from more than 10,000 years ago—in fact, 12.8 percent of the entire collection. That is not chill.

"That ice was around when most of Northern Canada was still covered in an ice sheet, and it was probably from that ice sheet," said Martin Sharp, a glaciologist and curator of the archive, in an interview. "That makes it unique—we're looking at a completely different climate regime from ours."

The oldest ice core that melted was 22,000 years old, Sharp said, with others clocking in at 17,000 years of age and 500 years of age. Sharp and other scientists at the archive were hoping to analyze these samples in the hopes of uncovering secrets about the Earth's climate millennia ago.

"We could have looked at how ice melting varied through time, and how it relates to the climate changes we already know about," Sharp said, "or if it indicates changes in climate we hadn't noticed previously."

Obviously, this is a loss, and it's not the first time a freezer has gone and screwed things up royally for researchers, either. In 2012, a freezer containing brain tissue samples at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center went on the fritz, thawing almost 150 stored brains, an event that researchers at the time said would slow the pace of autism research.

The Canadian freezer has been restored, according to the University of Alberta, and an investigation into what went wrong is ongoing.

"We were very lucky that most of the collection was in the freezer next to the one that failed," Sharp said. "We have to think quite hard about how we focus our efforts now."

Man, what a bummer.

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Update: This article was updated with comment from ice archive custodian Martin Sharp. The headline was also updated to reflect new information .