Seals lie on a frozen section of the Ross Sea at the Scott Base in Antarctica on November 12, 2016. Reuters/Mark Ralston

Australia is digging a hole deep inside the frozen continent of Antarctica and hopes to beat China and Europe in seeking the window to the past that may well affect the planet’s future. Australia has joined the race to extract one million year old ice embedded deep within Antarctica’s frigid interior.

Australia lays claim to 42 percent of Antarctica and is one of the many countries in the continent that has a permanent research base. The mobile field station has been built on sleds. The Australian scientists hope to better understand the influence of carbon dioxide levels on climate change.

This they think will be accomplished by drilling almost three kilometres into the ice sheet and then extracting air bubbles and ice from a million years ago. Of course there is tremendous competition as Europe and China also have drilling teams that are operating nearby. The Australian team wants to win the race by extracting the oldest and the deepest ice that is considered one of science’s “holy grails.”

“We need to drill more than one (million-year) ice core to ensure the information we are getting is reliable and accurate,” Australian Antarctic Division’s ice core scientist and program leader Tas van Ommen told The Australian.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said that he really hopes Australia becomes the first to secure the scientific prize as the project is part of a larger reinvigoration of an Australian engagement with Antarctica, dating to Douglas Mawson’s 1911 expedition.

It is likely that Australia and Europe would set up their drill sites 30 kms apart near Dome Circe, which is 1,100kms inland from Australia’s Casey Station. China chose to drill at Dome Argus, Antarctica’s highest point, though many believe the site is not ideal for extracting the one million year old ice.

“We see our role as not just a historic one but going well into the future,” Frydenberg said.