ILLIMANI MOUNTAIN, Bolivia (Reuters) - A team of international scientists are transporting samples of ice from a melting glacier in Bolivia to Antarctica, for study and preservation before the glacier disappears.
The international "Ice Memory" expedition of 15 scientists took samples from the glacier on Illimani Mountain in the Andes and will store them in Antarctica at the French-Italian base of Concordia.
The scientists were helped by local guides and porters, who live near the base of Illimani. Clearly visible from Bolivia's capital La Paz, Illimani's "eternal snows" are frequently referenced in the music, mythology and literature of the Aymara people.
But scientists say global warming is rapidly melting the glaciers of the Andes, removing an important source of fresh water for many communities and threatening others with deadly avalanches. Illimani itself has warmed by 0.7 degree Centigrade in the last 18 years, said Ice Memory glaciologist Patrick Ginot.
The team dug over 130 meters (430 ft) into the glacier to remove 75 ice samples, which they say yield some 18,000 years of climatic history.
"As glaciologists, we want to keep this kind of glacier sample because for us it is an encyclopedia of the climate and environment," Ginot told Reuters on Tuesday.
"When you remove a glacier sample, you're perforating through into the world's history."
The French-led Ice Memory organization says its goal is to create a global ice archive sanctuary in Antarctica. It has also run a similar expedition on Mont Blanc in the Alps and plans further trips to Russia and Nepal.
Reporting by Monica Machicao, writing by Rosalba O'Brien, editing by G Crosse