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2006
Huber, C, Beyerle U, Leuenberger M, Schwander J, Kipfer R, Spahni R, Severinghaus JP, Weiler K.  2006.  Evidence for molecular size dependent gas fractionation in firn air derived from noble gases, oxygen, and nitrogen measurements. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 243:61-73.   10.1016/j.epsl.2005.12.036   AbstractWebsite

We present elemental and isotopic measurements of noble gases (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, and Xe), oxygen and nitrogen of firn air from two sites. The first set of samples was taken in 1998 at the summit of the Devon Ice Cap in the eastern part of Devon Island. The second set was taken in 2001 at NGRIP location (North Greenland). He and Ne are heavily enriched relative to Ar with respect to the atmosphere in the air near the close-off depth at around 50-70 in. The enrichment increases with depth and reaches the maximum value in the deepest samples just above the zone of impermeable ice where no free air could be extracted anymore. Similarly, elemental ratios of O(2)/N(2), O(2)/Ar and Ar/N(2) are increasing with depth. In contrast but in line with expectations, isotopic ratios of (15)N/(14)N, (18)O/(16)O, and (36)Ar/(40)Ar show no significant enrichment near the close-off depth. The observed isotopic ratios in the firn air column can be explained within the uncertainty ranges by the well-known processes of gravitational enrichment and thermal diffusion. To explain the elemental ratios, however, an additional fractionation process during bubble inclusion has to be considered. We implemented this additional process into our firn air model. The fractionation factors were found by fitting model profiles to the data. We found a very similar close-off fractionation behavior for the different molecules at both sites. For smaller gas species (mainly He and Ne) the fractionation factors are linearly correlated to the molecule size, whereas for diameters greater than about 3.6 A the fractionation seems to be significantly smaller or even negligible. An explanation for this size dependent fractionation process could be gas diffusion through the ice lattice. At Devon Island the enrichment at the bottom of the firn air column is about four times higher compared to NGRIP. We explain this by lower firn diffusivity at Devon Island, most probably due to melt layers, resulting in significantly reduced back diffusion of the excess gas near the close-off depth. The results of this study considerably increase the understanding of the processes occurring during air bubble inclusion near the close-off depth in firn and can help to improve the interpretation of direct firn air measurements, as well as air bubble measurements in ice cores, which are used in numerous studies as paleo proxies. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Kawamura, K, Severinghaus JP, Ishidoya S, Sugawara S, Hashida G, Motoyama H, Fujii Y, Aoki S, Nakazawa T.  2006.  Convective mixing of air in firn at four polar sites. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 244:672-682.   10.1016/j.epsl.2006.02.017   AbstractWebsite

Air withdrawn from the firn, at four polar sites (Dome Fuji, H72 and YM85, Antarctica and North GRIP, Greenland) was measured for delta N-15 of N-2 and delta O-18 of O-2 to test for the presence of convective air mixing in the top part of the firn, known as the "convective zone". Understanding the convective zone and its possible relationship to surface conditions is important for constructing accurate ice-core greenhouse gas chronologies and their phasing with respect to climate change. The thickness of the convective zone was inferred from a regression line with barometric slope of the data in the deep firn. It is less than a few meters at H72 and NGRIP, whereas a substantial convective zone is found at Dome Fuji (8.6 +/- 2.6 m) and YM85 (14.0 +/- 1.8 m). By matching the outputs of a diffusion model to the data, effective eddy diffusivities required to mix the firn air are found. At the surface of Dome Fuji and YM85, these are found to be several times greater than the molecular diffusivity in free air. The crossover from dominance of convection to molecular diffusion takes place at 7 +/- 2, 11 +/- 2 and 0.5 +/- 0.5 m at Dome Fuji, YM85 and NGRIP, respectively. These depths can be used as an alternative definition of the convective zone thickness. The firn permeability at Dome Fuji is expected to be high because of intense firn metamorphism due to the low accumulation rate and large seasonal air temperature variation at the site. The firn layers in the top several meters are exposed to strong temperature gradients for several decades, leading to large firn grains and depth hoar that enhance permeability. The thick convective zone at YM85 is unexpected because the temperature, accumulation rate and near-surface density are comparable to NGRIP. The strong katabatic wind at YM85 is probably responsible for creating the deep convection. The largest convective zone found in this study is still only half of the current inconsistency implied from the deep ice core gas isotopes and firn densification models. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

2001
Severinghaus, JP, Grachev A, Battle M.  2001.  Thermal fractionation of air in polar firn by seasonal temperature gradients. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems. 2   10.1029/2000GC000146   AbstractWebsite

Air withdrawn from the top 5-15 m of the polar snowpack (fim) shows anomalous enrichment of heavy gases during summer, including inert gases. Following earlier work, we ascribe this to thermal diffusion, the tendency of a gas mixture to separate in a temperature gradient, with heavier molecules migrating toward colder regions. Summer warmth creates a temperature gradient in the top few meters of the firn due to the thermal inertia of the underlying firn and causes gas fractionation by thermal diffusion. Here we explore and quantify this process further in order to (1) correct for bias caused by thermal diffusion in firn air and ice core air isotope records, (2) help calibrate a new technique for measuring temperature change in ice core gas records based on thermal diffusion [Severinghaus et al., 1998], and (3) address whether air in polar snow convects during winter and, if so, whether it creates a rectification of seasonality that could bias the ice core record. We sampled air at 2-m-depth intervals from the top 15 m of the firn at two Antarctic sites, Siple Dome and South Pole, including a winter sampling at the pole. We analyzed (15)N/(14)N, (40)Ar/(36)Ar, (40)Ar/(38)Ar, (18)O/(16)O of O(2), O(2)/N(2), (84)Kr/(36)Ar, and (132)Xe/(36)Ar. The results show the expected pattern of fractionation and match a gas diffusion model based on first principles to within 30%. Although absolute values of thermal diffusion sensitivities cannot be determined from the data with precision, relative values of different gas pairs may. At Siple Dome, delta (40)Ar/4 is 66 +/- 2% as sensitive to thermal diffusion as delta (15)N, in agreement with laboratory calibration; delta (18)O/2 is 83 +/- 3%, and delta (84)Kr/48 is 33 +/- 3% as sensitive as delta (15)N. The corresponding figures for summer South Pole are 64 +/- 2%, 81 +/- 3%, and 34 +/- 3%. Accounting for atmospheric change, the figure for deltaO(2)/N(2)/4 is 90 +/- 3% at Siple Dome. Winter South Pole shows a strong depletion of heavy gases as expected. However, the data do not fit the model well in the deeper part of the profile and yield a systematic drift with depth in relative thermal diffusion sensitivities (except for Kr, constant at 34 +/- 4%), suggesting the action of some other process that is not currently understood. No evidence for wintertime convection or a rectifier effect is seen.