Interview to Ice Memory Foundation

We interviewed Johanna Durand, the Program and Philanthropy manager of Ice Memory Foundation, to learn about the foundation’s projects and achievements in the last few years as well as goals for the future.

Publication date: 29 Nov 2023
@Riccardo Selvatico – CNR/ Ice Memory Foundation

Could you introduce your organization in a few words and the main activities carried out?  

The Ice Memory Foundation, inaugurated on January 18th, 2021, sheltered by the Foundation of Grenoble Alpes, is a collaborative initiative formed by seven visionary partners. Our primary mission revolves around the collection, preservation, and responsible management of ice cores from endangered glaciers. These invaluable cores, storing crucial information, are destined for preservation in a dedicated sanctuary in Antarctica, ensuring the legacy of their insights for future decades and centuries.

Could you explain the significance of preserving ice cores and the valuable information they contain for future generations?

Glaciers serve as natural archives, offering scientists a unique opportunity to unravel the intricate climatic and environmental history of our planet spanning tens of millennia. Ice does not lie, it hosts a lot of information through small number of a wide range of impurities, such as gas, acids, sugars, dust, ions, heavy metal, radioactivity, bacteria, viruses…

In 1987, Claude Lorius made a pioneering contribution to our comprehension of climate and carbon dioxide evolution. Through the examination of the initial Russian ice cores, he revealed a 160,000-year chronicle of climate history. However, it’s noteworthy that his drilling efforts reached a depth of 2,083 meters, equivalent to capturing 160,000 years of accumulated snowfall and knowledge. Lorius’ research shed light on the sensitivity of climate to greenhouse gases, notably CO2 and methane, offering crucial insights into the potential consequences of sustained emissions from human activities. Today, advancements in technology have elevated our capabilities, allowing us to explore an even more extensive 800,000-year chronicle of climate history, providing unparalleled depth and perspective in our ongoing quest to understand the Earth’s environmental dynamics.

Over the years, and most specifically, since then, ice-core science has made indispensable contributions to comprehending our climate and environment, informing political decision-makers through bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Preserving these invaluable ice cores is not just an academic pursuit; it is fundamental for driving scientific advancements and knowledge that will significantly contribute to the well-being of humanity. As technology evolves at a rapid pace, envisioning a future where glaciologists might analyse the biological content of an ice core, such as tracking the evolution of viruses that could pose threats to human health, underscores the enduring importance of safeguarding these frozen archives.

What are some of the most significant discoveries or findings made through the Ice Memory Project so far?

The Ice Memory Initiative started in 2015 and is a continuous adventure, both human and scientific. Today, 8 glaciers have been drilled since 2016. Two main take aways findings. The first one is to understand that the ice holds endless information, including keys to climate change adaptation, that future technology could unlock. The second one, after the Svalbard expedition in April 2023, we have to realise that global warming is happening even faster than expected. Last time they drilled there in 2005 it was pure ice, at one of the northernmost glaciers in the arctic. But last April 2023, scientists found water at 25m deep.

How does the Foundation engage with the public and raise awareness about its initiatives and the importance of ice core preservation?

Actually, this mission requires 360° action, across different levels of our society. For example, advocacy means active participation in influential international forums such as the United Nations (UN), we participated in COP26, we’re aiming for the World Economic Forum (WEF), and of course, last week’s thesis, we actively participated in the One Planet Polar Summit (OPPS). We will be active within the framework of the Decade of Polar and Ice Sciences to acculturate general opinion, and in particular decision-makers. 

That’s why we need to work closely with journalists. Environmental issues and scientific questions are now well received. People want to understand. We strive to reach the media as widely as possible. It’s a long-term job that we’re developing. Since 2015, we’ve accumulated over 5,000 publications, and we continue to ensure a global presence through comprehensive coverage in media around the world. 

To target the general public as decision-makers and involve them in our race against time, we need to broaden and share knowledge of ice core science. That’s why we’d like to develop a dedicated commitment to capacity building and promoting education, with a remarkable initiative aligned with UNESCOʼs declaration that 2025 will be the International Year of Glaciers. As you know, we sometimes need different channels to take into account the globality of environmental issues and their complexity, and so we also need the support of art. We believe in the confluence of art and science. Just take a look at Ca Foscari Venice’s video of Emma Critchley UK’s water dance!

How can individuals and organizations support the Ice Memory Foundation’s work or get involved in its initiatives?

Practically, we collect ice cores from endangered glaciers. As we said, our challenge is to drill 20 glaciers in 20 years. This logically requires money for logistical operation, as resources in terms of equipment, cold chain, shipping, etc. This means that the support offered to our foundation will help us in our race against time.

The first step, basically, is to make a donation.

This would also help us build the Ice Memory Sanctuary for a very long term storage in Antarctica. We also aim to provide data by feeding an Ice Memory open database with reference data for present and future scientists. Gathering the data, offering it in an open source policy needs IT, AI, … At least, we would dedicate “money” / fundraising to education in terms of capacity building for young researchers and young generation education. We do need to train researchers and enlarge the scientific capacity for youth as they must continue this collective effort in 40-50 years.

But we also need a large support in terms of diplomacy from embassies, international organizations. Why ? For two simple reasons: logically, when we need to set up a drilling operation abroad, we need high level support to facilitate access to the glaciers. Even from academic or universitary cooperation. Involving scientists, labs, and ministers help us to open the door of the glaciers which are disappearing faster than we expected. 

Basically, to take the easiest step in supporting our cause, we need individuals or organizations to spread the voice of the melting ice! 

For each drilling operation, we invite people to follow the adventure on our icy social media. We try to share as much as possible about life at base camp. And that’s harder than it looks, even if we do use helicopters from time to time… High altitudes and extreme conditions are very often combined and dangerous. The more we share in the adventure and the scientific challenge, the more we take on our responsibilities to pass on the value of ice to our generation.This means staying informed and sharing information, for example by subscribing to our newsletter, following our pages and sharing on social media to amplify our message by connecting with us on social platforms and spreading the word.

For those seeking a deeper engagement, a second step, get in touch with us to explore partnership opportunities and discover the lifetime benefits of collaborating with the Ice Memory Foundation.

The Ice Memory Foundation operates on a robust and sustainable economic model that thrives on a harmonious blend of public and private funding. 

At least, for years to come, by supporting the operations and Ice memory challenges and visibility, you help us in developing a very long term Ice Memory governance with international institutions and Nations.

How has the partnership with Transnational Giving Europe expanded the reach and impact of the Ice Memory Foundation’s work on an international scale?

Given that the Ice Memory foundation was founded in 2021 by scientific institutions from Italy, Swiss, France and involves international teams, it was only natural to facilitate fundings from all over Europe.

Through our partnership with Transnational Giving Europe, we are proud to extend our outreach to countries including Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, marking a significant stride in expanding the reach and impact of our foundation on an international scale.

What long-term impact does the Foundation hope to achieve in the field of climate science and environmental preservation? Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that the Foundation is particularly excited about?

The foundation envisions a lasting legacy for future generations, derived from the invaluable data contained within heritage ice cores, empowering informed decision-making in climate adaptation.

Ensuring a sustainable and internationally governed framework over the coming centuries is integral to guaranteeing the responsible preservation and utilization of the Ice Memory heritage of ice cores and data.

Looking ahead, a landmark project is on the horizon—the establishment of a dedicated snow cave in Antarctica, situated at the French-Italian Concordia station. Scheduled to open its doors in 2025-26, this unique sanctuary will serve as the safeguarded repository for the Ice Memory heritage ice cores, representing a monumental step towards the foundation’s commitment to long-term preservation and impactful environmental stewardship.

Can you share some of the challenges and obstacles the Foundation has encountered in its work?

@Riccardo Selvatico – CNR/ Ice Memory Foundation

One of the primary challenges faced by the Foundation is the rapid pace of environmental changes, notably the accelerated melting observed, surpassing initial predictions. This urgency has created an increased need for funds to address the impact effectively.

The lack of widespread awareness poses a significant obstacle. As the issue is not well-known, securing European funding or other support is challenging due to the project’s limited popularity. Time is a critical factor, and there’s a pressing concern that in a few years, it might be too late to implement effective solutions.

On the logistical front, the Foundation encounters various challenges during its missions. The unpredictable weather conditions during drillings, coupled with extreme altitudes, pose considerable obstacles. These missions often extend over months, demanding significant physical resilience from team members. Additionally, efforts are made to minimize the carbon footprint of missions, primarily relying on human power. This combination of extreme environmental conditions and low carbon footprint initiatives makes the work exceptionally demanding.

Could you share some success stories or examples where cross-border giving has made a substantial impact on your projects and the preservation of ice cores?

While we are in the initial stages of our journey, the anticipated impact of cross-border giving is significant, directly influencing the number of glaciers that can be drilled in the upcoming decade. Notably, the average cost of a drilling operation and the storage of a heritage ice core ranges between 300,000 and 1,000,000 euros. One noteworthy supporter contributing to our cause is the Didier & Martine Primat Foundation, based in Switzerland, standing as a major donor in our efforts.

How do you see climate philanthropy developing in the coming years?

@Riccardo Selvatico – CNR/ Ice Memory Foundation

Stronger and louder! In 2022, the amount of philanthropic funding for climate change mitigation remained essentially unchanged from the previous year that is 2% — a slowdown from the consistent growth we saw in 20192020, and 2021. In this decisive moment for the planet, philanthropy must rapidly raise its ambition for advancing transformative climate solutions.

Climate philanthropy needs to scale up and speed up, internationally, and combine with other tools such as impact investing and good governance businesses. It is time for civil society, philanthropists, and private partners to unite for the well-being of the next generations, through a different model than health philanthropy : based on interdisciplinary research, international cooperation and governance, more transparency, accountability, democracy.

Lastly, could you share some insights from your recent participation in the One Planet Polar Summit (OPPS)?

As rightly pointed out, we participated in the OPPS, held in Paris from November 8 to 10, 2023. During this summit, the Paris Call for Glaciers and Poles garnered signatures from 32 countries, leading to four pivotal announcements: President Macron’s commitment of one billion euros to support polar research, the official launch of the United Nations Decade for Polar and Glacial Sciences, Ice Memory’s acknowledgment as a “major project already agreed upon” for inclusion in the decade, and a collective commitment to safeguard the most endangered natural areas in polar regions and glaciers. For more information about the OPPS, you can visit this link.

Ice Memory Foundation is supported by UNESCO and recognized by the Antarctic Treaty System. For further information or to donate, visit their website!