Ice cores have been studied since the early 20th century, and several cores were drilled as a result of the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958).
Depths of over 400 m were reached, a record which was extended in the 1960s to 2164 m at Byrd Station in Antarctica.
The cuttings (chips of ice cut away by the drill) must be drawn up the hole and disposed of or they will reduce the cutting efficiency of the drill.
These include soot, ash, and other types of particle from forest fires and volcanoes; isotopes such as beryllium-10 created by cosmic rays; micrometeorites; and pollen.
The lowest layer of a glacier, called basal ice, is frequently formed of subglacial meltwater that has refrozen.
Ice is lost at the edges of the glacier to icebergs, or to summer melting, and the overall shape of the glacier does not change much with time.
Impurities in the ice provide information on the environment from when they were deposited.
A design for ice core augers was patented in 1932 and they have changed little since.
An auger is essentially a cylinder with helical metal ribs (known as flights) wrapped around the outside, at the lower end of which are cutting blades.
In Greenland, a sequence of collaborative projects began in the 1970s with the Greenland Ice Sheet Project; there have been multiple follow-up projects, with the most recent, the East Greenland Ice-Core Project, expected to complete a deep core in east Greenland in 2020.
Because the rate of snowfall varies from site to site, the age of the firn when it turns to ice varies a great deal.
An ice core is a core sample that is typically removed from an ice sheet or a high mountain glacier.
Since the ice forms from the incremental buildup of annual layers of snow, lower layers are older than upper, and an ice core contains ice formed over a range of years.
Cores are drilled with hand augers (for shallow holes) or powered drills; they can reach depths of over two miles (3.2 km), and contain ice up to 800,000 years old.