You can see the tiny air bubbles in there? Those are what we study. This is a piece of ice – about 20,000 years
old – from Antarctica. And bubbles trap air from 20,000 years ago,
so we can find out what air was like back then. Can figure out if carbon dioxide has gone
up or down. And what we’ve learned from that is carbon
dioxide is higher now than it’s been for at least the last million years, probably
the last 20 million years, but that’s less certain. So it’s really quite a dramatic thing that
we humans have done to the carbon dioxide. [♩] Hey smart people. Joe here. Earth’s atmosphere and climate have changed
in a big way, and they are continuing to change. There’s no doubt about that, and we’ve
known it for decades. But Earth’s climate has always changed throughout
its history. So how do we know this time is different? We know because at places like the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography in southern California, we have freezers full of ancient ice that
let us look into the past, thousands–even millions of years, and measure exactly what
Earth’s atmosphere, and its climate, were like throughout deep history. I recently stopped by to visit Dr. Jeffrey
Severinghaus, who studies ice cores. He’s part of a team working to find the
oldest ice on Earth. Each of these little blocks of frozen water
can tell us something about our planet’s past, long before we existed – and where
it’s heading, now that we do. And inside these tiny bubbles in this ice,
is old bubbles of air that existed on this planet as old as that ice is. Yeah That’s the atmosphere of the planet, trapped
in those little bubbles. What happens in the polar regions is it’s
too cold to melt. So when snow falls it doesn’t melt, it just
piles up and piles up, and eventually turns into ice under its own weight. But if you think about what snow is like,
if you have a snowflake you have air in between the snowflake. As snow becomes more and more dense, it tends
to squeeze out the air between snowflakes, but it turns out it doesn’t squeeze out
all the air. As more layers of snow fall and condense,
those tiny voids are literally frozen in time, layer upon layer. And, there are a lot of layers. Some ice cores have annual layers just like
trees do, you know how you can count tree rings? So some graduate student sits there and counts
50,000 annual layers Of course it has to be a graduate student! What a lot of work. But to study ancient ice, first you have to
find ancient ice. Where are you doing this research? Where are you collecting these ice cores? This is from a place called Taylor Glacier
in Antarctica Taylor Glacier is a 54 kilometer stretch of
ice and rock. People like Dr. Severinghaus can read it like
a book–full of stories about our ancient climate. Taylor Glacier is special because it’s one
of the few places on Earth where the ancient ice has risen to the surface. So, you only have to drill 5-10 meters to
get the ice. Which is much easier than drilling a deep
ice core which is 3,000 meters and costs 50 million dollars. It’s basically a cylinder that has little
tiny teeth on the bottom. And when you rotate the barrel it carves out
the ice, but only a little bit in a ring, and it leaves behind an ice core in the middle. Once the core is pulled up, it’s packed
up and sent off, carrying a slice of history inside it. It’s a slow process, it takes like a month
for the ship to get here. Whether you’re standing in the middle of
the Amazon rainforest or at the North Pole, you’re breathing roughly the same air. Our atmosphere is pretty much the same everywhere. Which means that a tiny air bubble from that
one spot is enough to paint a picture of what the entire planet’s atmosphere looked like
so many years ago. This is the freezer. We won’t be in there long, so don’t worry
about the cold So this is what a typical ice core sample
looks like. Now you’ll notice that there’s no bubbles. That’s because when you get down below 600-700
meters, the pressure is so high that the air turns into something called a clathrate which
is an ice-like substance. Clathrates are crystals, where instead of
bubbles, the molecules are trapped in a cage made by the bonds between frozen water molecules. There’s still gas in there There’s still gas molecules but they’re
not in a gas phase. Man the patterns are so cool, you must randomly
see such cool ice phenomena It’s cold in here! This cold! Funny how that works. Okay, but how do you get the ancient air out
of the ice to measure it? I mean, without contaminating it with… all
this air around us? So this is how we actually extract the ancient
air, if you will. We take a piece of ice and put it in a vacuum
flask, and pump out all of the modern air, the air we’re breathing right now, using
a vacuum line. This is a vacuum pump here. So we make a seal, and close this valve, and
then you only have an ice cube and a little bit of water vapor, but no air. Then we melt the ice, and the melting of the
ice releases those little air bubbles of ancient air. So because you already let out the “now
air,” the only gasses that are coming out are the ones that are trapped inside the ice. Right, and then we can purify the gas a little
bit by freezing the water. So they pump out all the modern air, melt
the ice to let the ancient atmosphere vaporize, re-freeze the water, and pump that ancient
atmosphere out so it can be measured. This is a liquid helium tank, it’s cold
enough – it’s at 4 kelvin, 4 degrees about absolute zero. It’s cold enough that all the air actually
condenses and turns into ice – air ice. Every gas, will freeze Every gas except helium. So then we take it over here. This is the analysis part of it. This tube is actually a bottle, a long skinny
bottle that’s capable of dipping itself into the liquid helium. You wouldn’t want to be getting your own
hands too close to 4 kelvin. No. The frozen air gets put into this, a mass
spectrometer, which basically measures the masses of really tiny things. We measure the chemical composition of the
atmosphere using isotopes: they’re like different flavors of atomic elements. Isotopes, those flavors of elements, have
unique masses, and the mixture of them in the air bubbles can tell us all kinds of things
about ancient earth. We use the isotopes of nitrogen to tell ancient
temperature at the time the snow was falling. Ordinary nitrogen has a mass of 14, but the
rare isotope nitrogen 15 has a mass of 15. It turns out that relative proportions of
N15 and N14 are sensitive to temperature. So, whatever the temperature is at a particular
time, it’s creating different mixes of different flavors of gasses in the atmosphere, like
a fingerprint for temperature. That’s right, and that’s trapped in air
bubbles for posterity. So the sample here starts out waiting its
turn and when its turn comes the sample opens and goes into this little tiny tube, which
leads into the mass spectrometer, here, and it gets accelerated by a 3,000 volt electrical
gradient, which makes the ions go really fast. And then they hit this magnet and they’re
forced to make a 90-degree right turn, and in doing so, heavy things like N15 try to
go straight, and lighter things like N14 get bent more. It’s like being in a car. You can’t turn as fast in a big heavy car. So they swing out, and then the detector is
seeing what swung out farther. So, you’re getting resolution of things
that differ by a single neutron when they’re flying through that curve? That’s pretty cool. The same idea can be used to find out more
than just temperature. Labs all over the world use elements trapped
in air, trapped in ice cores, to paint a map from our distant past to today. Oxygen isotopes can tell us how oceans changed,
mineral dust tells us about how the atmosphere moved around, there are chemical clues about
early volcanoes. But maybe most importantly, we can trace changing
levels of carbon dioxide. So the climate has changed before, how do
we know that this time it’s us. The way we know, is just like we talked about
with nitrogen, the carbon in carbon dioxide also has two flavors. There’s carbon 12, which is ordinary carbon,
and then a very rare form of carbon, carbon 13. So, that’s how we know it’s human caused. The atmosphere, as it goes up in CO2 concentration,
the carbon 13 of the atmosphere is taking a nosedive. And that’s not what would happen if it was
natural CO2. Because fossil fuel co2 is very depleted in
carbon 13. This comes from the fact that plants prefer
to eat CO2 made of carbon-12, and when we burn fossil fuels made from those ancient
plants, the fraction of carbon-12 in the atmosphere goes up while carbon-13 goes down. We’ve only been measuring carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere since 1957, but using the data from ice cores, we can trace levels back
way farther. And this is what we see: CO2 was pretty flat for most of the past 1,000
years. All around 280 ppm. Now we’re going to add in the carbon 13
abundance, this gold line. And you can see that was also pretty constant
for most of the last thousand years. But then around 1850, right when carbon dioxide
concentration started to rise, the carbon 13 abundance started taking a nosedive. And this kind of unambiguously tells you that
humans did it. That’s why I call it the smoking gun of
human causation. There are lots of other ways we know, but
this is the simplest. We’re moving into uncharted territory. The last time something like this shows up
in the ice record is around 55 million years ago, when a volcano popped up under an oil
field and cooked basically everything. It sent all the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So, the carbon dioxide shot up, we think it
nearly quadrupled, and the climate warmed by 6 degrees. The most important thing is right away to
solve this global warming problem. We don’t have much time left. We have to put aside all of our political
differences, The health and wellbeing of the planet is so much more important than everything
else. We can do this, I know we can. We can. But will we? I hope so. Stay curious.

What’s In a 20,000 Year-Old Cube of Ice?
Tagged on:                                                                             

100 thoughts on “What’s In a 20,000 Year-Old Cube of Ice?

  • October 7, 2019 at 4:40 pm
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    The climate has changed before. How do we know this time it's because of us? Thanks to air bubbles trapped in ancient ice, and paleoclimatologists like Jeff Severinghaus.
    Make sure to visit our Patreon page! And I'm on Twitter and Instagram at @DrJoeHanson & @okaytobesmart

    Reply
  • October 8, 2019 at 1:38 am
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    What I don’t understand about ice core bubble is that gazes defuse in ice, so it will migrate trough the ice.
    This video helps 🙂

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  • October 8, 2019 at 1:45 am
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    Spoiler alert – we won't.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 1:52 am
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    I have a strong urge to put that piece of ice into my mouth.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:30 am
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    This researcher makes big errors when reading statistical data. Correlation is not causation. I have noticed that biologists, chemists and climate scientists do not dominate the heat transfer subject matter. Energy (yes, heat is a type of energy) is transferred from place to place. It is not stored inside a bubble for millions of years. That heat already moved to an area of lower temperature. Heat with higher temperature than the glacier is moving to the glacier and thus melting it.

    Studies about carbon are important to determine the change in the composition in our atmosphere as it has an impact in climate, however, you cannot conclude that the state of energy of the carbon atom and percentage of composition of our atmosphere are the same thing.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:35 am
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    Like hell out co2 is going up. Your bullshit paid off "scientists" are brainwashing stupid people everywhere.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:44 am
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    Dr. Jeff looks like Joe's daddy!!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:53 am
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    What if there is a sneaky bacteria hiding in that ice cube?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:55 am
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    Wait, wouldn't they be losing a portion of the sample as the pressure drops as the ice sublimates away? If that's the case, how much of the specimen do they lose each time to sublimation?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:56 am
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    Maybe the higher CO2 will prevent the next ice age and extend the interglacial period out so the planet doesn't freeze again? Ever think of that?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:06 am
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    20,000 year old ice: exists
    Any source of heat: I'm gonna end this man's whole career.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:07 am
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    Probably water

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:20 am
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    Is there any way we could determine carbon dioxide levels past 20 million years?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:37 am
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    To make a scientifically sound comparison, we should measure today's air molecular composition with a sample taken from similar environments. Within bubbles trapped in the top ice layer.
    It may be decades old but it would be scientific. CO2 is heavier than nitrogen gas, meaning that the density might be higher at ground level, where the ice formed, than in higher altitudes. Also, CO2 dissolves in water, so the original levels may have been higher.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:39 am
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    Sooo much layers, just like onions.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:50 am
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    What's it taste like?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:57 am
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    Bullshit. I don't believe that for a second.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:03 am
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    I want to understand how we know the water does not contaminate the sample?
    He said we get the same air everywhere. That doesn’t make sense to me when you can visually see differences from Beijing China and a farm in Kansas?
    Another thing I would like to understand is if the ozone holes are at the poles wouldn’t that affect the sample as well?
    I have others but I will stop here. These are serious questions not arguments. I would like to really understand these things.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:08 am
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    man i thought theyd just put the ice in a vacuum seal bag then melt it then get the air

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:15 am
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    Never seen a volcano in a Bob Ross painting =)

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:21 am
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    Bruh the planet will be fine…after it kills us off it'll be back to normal in no time, geologically speaking.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:28 am
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    Nonsense.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:36 am
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    Just when things get interesting at 8:55, you screwed up the audio levels. I can't hear anything Dr. Jeffrey says.

    I also remain confused about the carbon-12/carbon-13 divide. After watching this video, it is not clear to me why carbon-13 levels are decreasing. If burning fossil fuels puts carbon-12 into the atmosphere and plants prefer carbon-12, what does that have anything to do with carbon-13 levels? I could see the level of carbon-13 relative to carbon-12 changing as we pump more and more carbon-12 into the atmosphere, but this video doesn't explain why carbon-13 levels would decrease absolutely.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:36 am
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    Omg even an ice cube can be special?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:50 am
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    To some, the most important thing is increasing shareholder value. That's who they really serve.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:58 am
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    Are you saying life on earth is more important than Exxon executive's bonuses or the politicians who election campaigns they fund?? So selfish of you!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:06 am
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    Can i put that 20 thou year old ice on my Coke?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:24 am
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    cute Bob Ross reference

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:52 am
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    Ничего не понял!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 6:05 am
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    Is that the ice used to sunk the titanic?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 6:09 am
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    11:01 I'm sorry Dr. Jeffery Severinghaus, but you're too much of a scientist, and most people aren't like you, in fact so many people hate being called as nerds, that is why there are way way more politicians on Earth than scientist, which make most of leaders on Earth …and if you thought you could argue with them, then read the history, how many people died in world war 1 and 2 combined both military and civilians
    ? and then you will realized of how those politicians dare to sacrifices that many people…that even if something miraculously reverse this climate change, humanity will still never be able to reverse their death

    but in the end, this is opinion of a nobody, don;t let this opinion bothers you

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  • October 8, 2019 at 6:23 am
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    What fake scince

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  • October 8, 2019 at 6:32 am
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    "We can, but will we?" 🤔
    Only if someone can make money off of it, and when it fails, they still made bank while having "done" something (but not really for real since you know, [heavy sarcasm] "Well, we tried").
    This type of underdog wins even for failing.
    🌟 THEN time runs out and we're S.O.L. ☠👍🏽hello, Mars atm🏧 maybe?
    ☣☢🚱🚯🚭🏳
    (I've given up on ppl obviously.)

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  • October 8, 2019 at 6:49 am
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    Hey Joe! Yeah, that man is clearly a liar….. He went to Antarctica???? Ha ha ha ha!!!!
    Everybody knows that the government's trained and fully armed penguins, are guarding Antarctica, and doesn't let anyone see the flat Erf dome… It's common knowledge! 🤣
    Also: That ice cube was clearly CGI… 🤣

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  • October 8, 2019 at 6:49 am
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    HOW FASCINATING!!
    What about looking at it under a powerful microscope? Wonder what you’d find? No ancient microbes so far???

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  • October 8, 2019 at 6:50 am
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    1698 steam engine first used, 1769 James watt patented the first steam engine,… and in 1850 the carbon-12 goes up beyond average of million years, up till now

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:01 am
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    20,000 year old water

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:16 am
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    This is the one who should get Tesla from Arnold

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:17 am
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    We bouta start selling canned air from 20,000 years ago

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:23 am
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    i hope we can save our planet before it goes to ruin 🙁

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:33 am
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    Thanks, this was fascinating!!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:35 am
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    So many of these experiments are "grantish." There's lots of grants available for certain "narratives" in grant applications…

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:39 am
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    Make America Greta again!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 7:44 am
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    More leftish lies? Same on you!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 8:02 am
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    The way magnets and particle velocity were used so smartly to separate heavier elements was fascinating!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 8:09 am
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    was that like your'e real father?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 8:16 am
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    So blame the humans when volcanoes spew a gazillion times more CO2? How many humans over how many years equal on eruption, say like Mt. St Helens? I'll be back for the answer, I need to run to the gas station for mower fuel.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 8:16 am
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    Ice is cool

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  • October 8, 2019 at 8:54 am
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    you’re great people , i hope your love for knowledge increases 4 times more , you are the hope for true civilization

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  • October 8, 2019 at 8:59 am
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    9:34 so plants don’t want to be cannibalistic , if i understood it right

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:03 am
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    9:55 so co2 12 is flat earth , does it mean damaging for humans , and if co2 13 is from human activity , where does co2 12 come from

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:19 am
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    This video is extremely important.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:26 am
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    This is so interesting!!! I always wonder about this process! Thanks for sharing!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:29 am
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    Confused about 13Carbon (¹³C) and related graphs: 8:55 and 9:50
    ¹³C is supposed to be a fraction of regular CO2, yet is shown at more ppm than regular CO2 in both graphs.
    2) Also does the ¹³C actually decrease from burning fossil fuels, or is it the proportions that change? (If it does decrease, why?)

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:32 am
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    3:34–3:50 just be careful when you try to apply the same logic to methane on mars…

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:32 am
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    So what exactly was the atmosphere like 20,000?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:34 am
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    So no one's gonna talk about the Bob Ross reference?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 9:42 am
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    I mentioned this to a global warming denier he said no they don't he didn't believe it you can't argue with stupid.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 10:10 am
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    20,000 years old! Ice! And he just handles like that, bare hands?!?!?!?!!!!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 10:36 am
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    Ok nothing related but why the 360p quality looks like 240p here? 🙄

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  • October 8, 2019 at 10:44 am
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    I wish I could force idiots who deny climate change to watch this.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 10:47 am
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    we are so fucked

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  • October 8, 2019 at 10:55 am
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    you forgot to beat the devil out of it for a happy little accident

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  • October 8, 2019 at 11:09 am
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    You’re going to unleash the next plague

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  • October 8, 2019 at 11:09 am
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    Wait is it not supposed to become liquid air first in order for it to crystallise? Or some of those bubbles are indeed holding liquid air we just can not tell by looking at it?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 11:33 am
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    According to the models, what amount of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions do we require to avert the next ice age minima? It is irresponsible to only talk about one side of the dangers of climate change, and makes people dismiss the field. What humanity requires is the ability to artificially manipulate atmospheric greenhouse gases (through artificial forests or emitters), and this is going to require an unlimited and consistent source of energy (ie nuclear fusion). Any greenhouse gases we emit in the process of developing this energy source can be extracted from the atmosphere in the future.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 11:41 am
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    I understand why carbon 12 concentration shot up, but why didn't carbon 13 remain constant? Why did it plunge? (It's not a question of relative concentration, but absolute concentration.)

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  • October 8, 2019 at 11:46 am
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    Capitalism says we won't. ☹

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  • October 8, 2019 at 12:03 pm
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    It’s my understanding that water vapor is also a major component of atmospheric gas. With the set up shown to release the gas from the ice cubes, are there ways to infer the water vapor content based off the other gases?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 12:11 pm
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    how fitting, I got a Frozen 2 trailer ad before the video 😂

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  • October 8, 2019 at 12:16 pm
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    what is the proof of that ice cube came from antartica? and where is the dated results?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 12:24 pm
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    I would love to suck on air from 20,000 years ago

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  • October 8, 2019 at 12:48 pm
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    I'm gonna take a stabat it here:
    ….water?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 12:59 pm
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    Ice.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 1:25 pm
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    Should we be mindful of what we do to our atmosphere in the planet? Yes. Should we all be running around with our hair on fire and screaming and hollering and doomsday'n? No. everyone's always so quick to point out that carbon dioxide is higher than it ever has been since humans have been alive blah blah blah. but bail to mention that carbon dioxide levels have been as high as 4,000 parts per million and 7,000 parts per million in the past and a life on the planet still existed. And one of those times was the Cambrian explosion where the greatest explosion of life and biodiversity that has ever been known to happen on this planet occurred. should you be buying property on the coast and building buildings next to the water well.. idiots do what idiots do. I'm just so tired of the hysteria. Thankfully this video was lacking in most the hysterical department but still fails to even acknowledge that yes it's been enormously higher carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the past and there was an enormous amount of life on the planet. I am absolutely sure that if dumb dinosaurs and life in general back then survived that the most intelligence species to ever evolve that we know of on this planet will survive. So for all the hysterical out there you will get so much more done If you stop with all the hysterics because all it does is turn normal rational people off. They don't want to hear it even though they're open to trying to make things better but when all you do is run around the hair on fire they just turn around and go the other way.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 1:29 pm
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    Hank looks allot older then when i last saw him.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 1:30 pm
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    i mean petrolheads want their cars to fart loudly, they just love farts, idk why.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 1:57 pm
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    Have you seen Joe host a science show?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 1:59 pm
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    PBS Eons just published a video about how Antarctica used to be green back during the early Eocene, which I imagine would set a hard limit on the age of ice cores we can get.
    55mya would be the early Eocene, so is that the farthest we can go?
    How far back into the past have we dug down?
    Have we found older samples that might contradict Eons?

    Edit: Not sure what happened, but this comment got posted multiple times. I swear upon my ergonomic keyboard I'm not trying to spam

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:04 pm
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    Lick it!

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:14 pm
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    hold on I thought that Antarctica drifted from the equator meaning that the ice you are showing is only since the drift of the continent has completed or was near enough the cold. So what was the climate like before that?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:49 pm
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    We can but humans are naturally greedy.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 2:53 pm
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    Why doesn’t the host dress more professional? That shirt says “boy”.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:12 pm
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    Wow, I never thought about isotopes as flavours. When someone asks me in the future I'll use that analogy.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:13 pm
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    CO2 lags temperature. Higher CO2 doesn't cause higher temps. Higher temps seem to cause higher CO2.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:23 pm
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    I wonder what happened in the 17th century on that graph that caused a decrease in carbon 12 levels and a rise in carbon 13 levels

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:27 pm
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    Wait didnt they find Megatron (NBE 1) there?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:31 pm
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    You guys should do a video explaining why different genres of music affect people differently, that would be pretty interesting to tackle and to see your take on.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:44 pm
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    Most important question. How does the ancient ice taste?

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  • October 8, 2019 at 3:48 pm
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    *Drops some 20k years old ice cubes in a glass of whiskey.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 4:37 pm
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    *reads title
    Me:……water

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:28 pm
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    I wonder how many, once frozen, and unknown to man, viruses and bacteria get released when they thaw out that ancient ice? I know it’s useful to take ice cores, but it sure is scary…

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:34 pm
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    Don't believe anything after they say "may be".

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:44 pm
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    I smell something fishy… why are we limiting ourselves to the past million years? as I recall, that's less than chump change in earth years. oldest ice my ass.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:48 pm
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    Bro you keep using the word Smart, WHAT on earth do u mean with it..??

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:49 pm
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    Can we get ice from 1970s

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:53 pm
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    10:00 most ridiculous presentation I've yet seen. the past few thousand years? I bet if you zoomed out tens of millions of years it wouldn't look so bad, there might even be a ton of those "bad" particles about.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 5:53 pm
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    I admit, this is so cool!

    Got it?

    Reply
  • October 8, 2019 at 6:14 pm
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    Ancient Ice…sounds like a brand of vodka.

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