Publications

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2018
Birner, B, Buizert C, Wagner TJW, Severinghaus JP.  2018.  The influence of layering and barometric pumping on firn air transport in a 2-D model. Cryosphere. 12:2021-2037.   10.5194/tc-12-2021-2018   AbstractWebsite

Ancient air trapped in ice core bubbles has been paramount to developing our understanding of past climate and atmospheric composition. Before air bubbles become isolated in ice, the atmospheric signal is altered in the firn column by transport processes such as advection and diffusion. However, the influence of low-permeability layers and barometric pumping (driven by surface pressure variability) on firn air transport is not well understood and is not readily captured in conventional one-dimensional (1-D) firn air models. Here we present a two-dimensional (2-D) trace gas advection-diffusion-dispersion model that accounts for discontinuous horizontal layers of reduced permeability. We find that layering or barometric pumping individually yields too small a reduction in gravitational settling to match observations. In contrast, when both effects are active, the model's gravitational fractionation is suppressed as observed. Layering focuses airflows in certain regions in the 2-D model, which acts to amplify the dispersive mixing resulting from barometric pumping. Hence, the representation of both factors is needed to obtain a realistic emergence of the lock-in zone. In contrast to expectations, we find that the addition of barometric pumping in the layered 2-D model does not substantially change the differential kinetic fractionation of fast-and slow-diffusing trace gases. Like 1-D models, the 2-D model substantially underestimates the amount of differential kinetic fractionation seen in actual observations, suggesting that further subgrid-scale processes may be missing in the current generation of firn air transport models. However, we find robust scaling relationships between kinetic isotope fractionation of different noble gas isotope and elemental ratios. These relationships may be used to correct for kinetic fractionation in future high-precision ice core studies and can amount to a bias of up to 0.45 degrees C in noble-gas-based mean ocean temperature reconstructions at WAIS Divide, Antarctica.

2016
Cuffey, KM, Clow GD, Steig EJ, Buizert C, Fudge TJ, Koutnik M, Waddington ED, Alley RB, Severinghaus JP.  2016.  Deglacial temperature history of West Antarctica. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 113:14249-14254.   10.1073/pnas.1609132113   AbstractWebsite

The most recent glacial to interglacial transition constitutes a remarkable natural experiment for learning how Earth's climate responds to various forcings, including a rise in atmospheric CO2. This transition has left a direct thermal remnant in the polar ice sheets, where the exceptional purity and continual accumulation of ice permit analyses not possible in other settings. For Antarctica, the deglacial warming has previously been constrained only by the water isotopic composition in ice cores, without an absolute thermometric assessment of the isotopes' sensitivity to temperature. To overcome this limitation, we measured temperatures in a deep borehole and analyzed them together with ice-core data to reconstruct the surface temperature history of West Antarctica. The deglacial warming was 11.3 +/- 1.8 degrees C, approximately two to three times the global average, in agreement with theoretical expectations for Antarctic amplification of planetary temperature changes. Consistent with evidence from glacier retreat in Southern Hemisphere mountain ranges, the Antarctic warming was mostly completed by 15 kyBP, several millennia earlier than in the Northern Hemisphere. These results constrain the role of variable oceanic heat transport between hemispheres during deglaciation and quantitatively bound the direct influence of global climate forcings on Antarctic temperature. Although climate models perform well on average in this context, some recent syntheses of deglacial climate history have underestimated Antarctic warming and the models with lowest sensitivity can be discounted.

2015
Orsi, AJ, Kawamura K, Fegyveresi JM, Headly MA, Alley RB, Severinghaus JP.  2015.  Differentiating bubble-free layers from melt layers in ice cores using noble gases. Journal of Glaciology. 61:585-594.   10.3189/2015JoG14J237   AbstractWebsite

Melt layers are clear indicators of extreme summer warmth on polar ice caps. The visual identification of refrozen meltwater as clear bubble-free layers cannot be used to study some past warm periods, because, in deeper ice, bubbles are lost to clathrate formation. We present here a reliable method to detect melt events, based on the analysis of Kr/Ar and Xe/Ar ratios in ice cores, and apply it to the detection of melt in clathrate ice from the Eemian at NEEM, Greenland. Additionally, melt layers in ice cores can compromise the integrity of the gas record by dissolving soluble gases, or by altering gas transport in the firn, which affects the gas chronology. We find that the easily visible 1 mm thick bubble-free layers in the WAIS Divide ice core do not contain sufficient melt to alter the gas composition in the core, and do not cause artifacts or discontinuities in the gas chronology. The presence of these layers during winter, and the absence of anomalies in soluble gases, suggests that these layers can be formed by processes other than refreezing of meltwater. Consequently, the absence of bubbles in thin crusts is not in itself proof of a melt event.