US geologist investigates ‘spectacular’ Cold War remnants with ill effects

LOGAN – The incarnation of the Cold War, lost half a century ago during a covert military operation under the Greenland ice sheet, gives scientists so-called “wonderful” and potentially ominous insights into the future of a warmer Earth.

An international team of scientists announced their findings after studying ice and silt samples captured during drilling operations in the 1960s. It wasn’t until 2017 that scientists rediscovered the sample in the freezer. They have now correlated the evidence with ice cores to reach a worrying conclusion from other parts of Greenland.

Utah State University geology professor Tammy Rittner, who played a significant role in the study, called the findings “shocking” because they indicate that the entire Greenland ice sheet suffers at least twice as much total sweetness and what scientists previously thought. Is less stable than.

If it melts again, Rittoner believes the result could be disastrous for humans around the world.

Aside from its scientific value, the story of static evidence also contains jaw-dropping elements that can come from the thrill of the Cold War.

“It’s a great story in a cold place,” Ritnor said, describing a 1960’s military operation that literally took place inside the ice.

Camp Century: Hidden figures with a secret purpose

The Greenland Ice Sheet is a surprisingly natural phenomenon, covering an area more than four times the size of California, with a huge slab of ice up to 1 mile.

During the Cold War, Pentagon organizers decided it was a great place to get inside and build a military base called Camp Century. Tunnels and large workspaces were carved out of ice and covered with snow and ice.

“You’re going to dig a huge bunker under a blanket of ice and no one will know,” Rittener said in an interview on the U.S. campus. “It will disappear from above.”

The base itself was not secret; CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite also entered the ice sheet and toured Camp Century in 1960. Military officials described it as a place for scientific research. Its true purpose was a highly classified military secret.

Camp Century hid the project iceworm that was believed to be a secret military storage facility for 600 nuclear missiles.  The Pentagon later abandoned the project.
Camp Century hid the project iceworm that was believed to be a secret military storage facility for 600 nuclear missiles. The Pentagon later abandoned the project. (Photo: University of Vermont)

Known as Project Iceworm, the top secret plan was to have 600 mobile nuclear missiles hidden under ice and ready to launch them if the Cold War with the Soviet Union suddenly turned into a hot war. Eventually, however, the Pentagon abandoned the plan.

“They had to come,” Ritnor said, “because it was cut in the snow and the roof was breaking.”

Camp Century left a unique piece of evidence for future scientists. In 1966, a huge drill inside the base was covered all the way through a hard ice sheet, about a mile straight down, and even a few feet deep, into the mud below.

“They collected it, looked at it, and put it in the freezer and forgot about it,” Ritnor said.

Project Iceworm: Hints for Future Scientists

In 2017, scientists discovered forgotten sand and ice in a freezer in Denmark. They were amazed to find fossilized plants at the bottom of the ice-core. Ritnaur calls it the “treasure trove” of evidence because it shows that the ice sheet must have melted completely from two different times. Ritnaur’s role was to determine how long ago it happened.

In his darkened “luminescence lab” at the USU Innovation Campus, he bombarded the sand with lasers to measure its luminescent properties.

“And it tells us how old it is,” he explained. “When it finally came to light.”

Ritnor said that scientists had previously thought that the ice sheet might have been frozen for another two and a half million years. She said she was “shocked” to find sand that was finally exposed to sunlight 1 million years ago – perhaps much less.

“Maybe just two-and-a-half million or several hundred thousand years ago the ice sheet melted,” Rittenor said.

She said it indicates that the ice sheet may be slightly less stable than scientists thought and may be subject to meltdown in a relatively short period of time.

Meltdown: ‘Urgent problem for next 50 years’

These findings contain clues to the human race that could be catastrophic. Using a variety of signals, including air-bubbles from ice caps around the world, scientists have attributed the rise and fall of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last million years. When CO2 declined, the ice sheet grew. As the CO2 increased, the ice age began to melt. In the modern industrial age, atmospheric data show a dramatic spike, an apparently unprecedented increase in carbon dioxide.

“Today (it) is out of the natural range of CO2 concentrations,” Rittener said.

In recent years, the Greenland ice sheet seems to be melting at a dynamic pace. If the total meltdown happens again, the oceans will rise by an estimated 20 to 25 feet – much higher if Antarctica also melts. Which endangers the livelihoods and lives of millions of people in coastal villages, towns and cities around the world.

“If the Greenland ice sheet melts,” Rittoner said, “all those coastal areas would be flooded, entire countries would be submerged and most of the world’s population would be disrupted.”

Half a century old ice cream does not answer all the questions or predict the future. More studies are coming and this mystery of the past, once buried under the ice, can tell us a lot about the future of humanity.

“This is not a twenty-generation problem,” geologist Paul Birman said in a news release from the study team from the University of Vermont. “This is an immediate problem for the next 50 years.”


John Hollenhurst

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