Publications

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2017
McConnell, JR, Burke A, Dunbar NW, Kohler P, Thomas JL, Arienzo MM, Chellman NJ, Maselli OJ, Sigl M, Adkins JF, Baggenstos D, Burkhart JF, Brook EJ, Buizert C, Cole-Dai J, Fudge TJ, Knorr G, Graf HF, Grieman MM, Iverson N, McGwire KC, Mulvaney R, Paris G, Rhodes RH, Saltzman ES, Severinghaus JP, Steffensen JP, Taylor KC, Winckler G.  2017.  Synchronous volcanic eruptions and abrupt climate change similar to 17.7 ka plausibly linked by stratospheric ozone depletion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 114:10035-10040.   10.1073/pnas.1705595114   AbstractWebsite

Glacial-state greenhouse gas concentrations and Southern Hemisphere climate conditions persisted until similar to 17.7 ka, when a nearly synchronous acceleration in deglaciation was recorded in paleoclimate proxies in large parts of the Southern Hemisphere, with many changes ascribed to a sudden poleward shift in the Southern Hemisphere westerlies and subsequent climate impacts. We used high-resolution chemical measurements in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide, Byrd, and other ice cores to document a unique, similar to 192-y series of halogen-rich volcanic eruptions exactly at the start of accelerated deglaciation, with tephra identifying the nearby Mount Takahe volcano as the source. Extensive fallout from these massive eruptions has been found >2,800 km from Mount Takahe. Sulfur isotope anomalies and marked decreases in ice core bromine consistent with increased surface UV radiation indicate that the eruptions led to stratospheric ozone depletion. Rather than a highly improbable coincidence, circulation and climate changes extending from the Antarctic Peninsula to the subtropics-similar to those associated with modern stratospheric ozone depletion over Antarctica-plausibly link the Mount Takahe eruptions to the onset of accelerated Southern Hemisphere deglaciation similar to 17.7 ka.

2016
Buizert, C, Severinghaus JP.  2016.  Dispersion in deep polar firn driven by synoptic-scale surface pressure variability. Cryosphere. 10:2099-2111.   10.5194/tc-10-2099-20160   AbstractWebsite

Commonly, three mechanisms of firn air transport are distinguished: molecular diffusion, advection, and near-surface convective mixing. Here we identify and describe a fourth mechanism, namely dispersion driven by synoptic-scale surface pressure variability (or barometric pumping). We use published gas chromatography experiments on firn samples to derive the along-flow dispersivity of firn, and combine this dispersivity with a dynamical air pressure propagation model forced by surface air pressure time series to estimate the magnitude of dispersive mixing in the firn. We show that dispersion dominates mixing within the firn lock-in zone. Trace gas concentrations measured in firn air samples from various polar sites confirm that dispersive mixing occurs. Including dispersive mixing in a firn air transport model suggests that our theoretical estimates have the correct order of magnitude, yet may overestimate the true dispersion. We further show that strong barometric pumping, such as at the Law Dome site, may reduce the gravitational enrichment of delta N-15-N-2 and other tracers below gravitational equilibrium, questioning the traditional definition of the lock-in depth as the depth where delta N-15 enrichment ceases. Last, we propose that Kr-86 excess may act as a proxy for past synoptic activity (or paleo-storminess) at the site.

Bauska, TK, Baggenstos D, Brook EJ, Mix AC, Marcott SA, Petrenko VV, Schaefer H, Severinghaus JP, Lee JE.  2016.  Carbon isotopes characterize rapid changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the last deglaciation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 113:3465-3470.   10.1073/pnas.1513868113   AbstractWebsite

An understanding of the mechanisms that control CO2 change during glacial-interglacial cycles remains elusive. Here we help to constrain changing sources with a high-precision, high-resolution deglacial record of the stable isotopic composition of carbon in CO2 (delta C-13-CO2) in air extracted from ice samples from Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. During the initial rise in atmospheric CO2 from 17.6 to 15.5 ka, these data demarcate a decrease in delta C-13-CO2, likely due to a weakened oceanic biological pump. From 15.5 to 11.5 ka, the continued atmospheric CO2 rise of 40 ppm is associated with small changes in delta C-13-CO2, consistent with a nearly equal contribution from a further weakening of the biological pump and rising ocean temperature. These two trends, related to marine sources, are punctuated at 16.3 and 12.9 ka with abrupt, century-scale perturbations in delta C-13-CO2 that suggest rapid oxidation of organic land carbon or enhanced air-sea gas exchange in the Southern Ocean. Additional century-scale increases in atmospheric CO2 coincident with increases in atmospheric CH4 and Northern Hemisphere temperature at the onset of the Bolling (14.6-14.3 ka) and Holocene (11.6-11.4 ka) intervals are associated with small changes in delta C-13-CO2, suggesting a combination of sources that included rising surface ocean temperature.

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.

Rhodes, RH, Brook EJ, Chiang JCH, Blunier T, Maselli OJ, McConnell JR, Romanini D, Severinghaus JP.  2015.  Enhanced tropical methane production in response to iceberg discharge in the North Atlantic. Science. 348:1016-1019.   10.1126/science.1262005   AbstractWebsite

The causal mechanisms responsible for the abrupt climate changes of the Last Glacial Period remain unclear. One major difficulty is dating ice-rafted debris deposits associated with Heinrich events: Extensive iceberg influxes into the North Atlantic Ocean linked to global impacts on climate and biogeochemistry. In a new ice core record of atmospheric methane with ultrahigh temporal resolution, we find abrupt methane increases within Heinrich stadials 1, 2, 4, and 5 that, uniquely, have no counterparts in Greenland temperature proxies. Using a heuristic model of tropical rainfall distribution, we propose that Hudson Strait Heinrich events caused rainfall intensification over Southern Hemisphere land areas, thereby producing excess methane in tropical wetlands. Our findings suggest that the climatic impacts of Heinrich events persisted for 740 to 1520 years.

Mitchell, LE, Buizert C, Brook EJ, Breton DJ, Fegyveresi J, Baggenstos D, Orsi A, Severinghaus J, Alley RB, Albert M, Rhodes RH, McConnell JR, Sigl M, Maselli O, Gregory S, Ahn J.  2015.  Observing and modeling the influence of layering on bubble trapping in polar firn. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 120:2558-2574.   10.1002/2014jd022766   AbstractWebsite

Interpretation of ice core trace gas records depends on an accurate understanding of the processes that smooth the atmospheric signal in the firn. Much work has been done to understand the processes affecting air transport in the open pores of the firn, but a paucity of data from air trapped in bubbles in the firn-ice transition region has limited the ability to constrain the effect of bubble closure processes. Here we present high-resolution measurements of firn density, methane concentrations, nitrogen isotopes, and total air content that show layering in the firn-ice transition region at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core site. Using the notion that bubble trapping is a stochastic process, we derive a new parameterization for closed porosity that incorporates the effects of layering in a steady state firn modeling approach. We include the process of bubble trapping into an open-porosity firn air transport model and obtain a good fit to the firn core data. We find that layering broadens the depth range over which bubbles are trapped, widens the modeled gas age distribution of air in closed bubbles, reduces the mean gas age of air in closed bubbles, and introduces stratigraphic irregularities in the gas age scale that have a peak-to-peak variability of 10 years at WAIS Divide. For a more complete understanding of gas occlusion and its impact on ice core records, we suggest that this experiment be repeated at sites climatically different from WAIS Divide, for example, on the East Antarctic plateau.

2014
Buizert, C, Gkinis V, Severinghaus JP, He F, Lecavalier BS, Kindler P, Leuenberger M, Carlson AE, Vinther B, Masson-Delmotte V, White JWC, Liu ZY, Otto-Bliesner B, Brook EJ.  2014.  Greenland temperature response to climate forcing during the last deglaciation. Science. 345:1177-1180.   10.1126/science.1254961   AbstractWebsite

Greenland ice core water isotopic composition (delta O-18) provides detailed evidence for abrupt climate changes but is by itself insufficient for quantitative reconstruction of past temperatures and their spatial patterns. We investigate Greenland temperature evolution during the last deglaciation using independent reconstructions from three ice cores and simulations with a coupled ocean-atmosphere climate model. Contrary to the traditional delta O-18 interpretation, the Younger Dryas period was 4.5 degrees +/- 2 degrees C warmer than the Oldest Dryas, due to increased carbon dioxide forcing and summer insolation. The magnitude of abrupt temperature changes is larger in central Greenland (9 degrees to 14 degrees C) than in the northwest (5 degrees to 9 degrees C), fingerprinting a North Atlantic origin. Simulated changes in temperature seasonality closely track changes in the Atlantic overturning strength and support the hypothesis that abrupt climate change is mostly a winter phenomenon.

2013
Petrenko, VV, Severinghaus JP, Smith AM, Riedel K, Baggenstos D, Harth C, Orsi A, Hua Q, Franz P, Takeshita Y, Brailsford GW, Weiss RF, Buizert C, Dickson A, Schaefer H.  2013.  High-precision C-14 measurements demonstrate production of in situ cosmogenic (CH4)-C-14 and rapid loss of in situ cosmogenic (CO)-C-14 in shallow Greenland firn. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 365:190-197.   10.1016/j.epsl.2013.01.032   AbstractWebsite

Measurements of radiocarbon (C-14) in carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and carbon monoxide (CO) from glacial ice are potentially useful for absolute dating of ice cores, studies of the past atmospheric CH4 budget and for reconstructing the past cosmic ray flux and solar activity. Interpretation of C-14 signals in ice is complicated by the fact that the two major C-14 components-trapped atmospheric and in situ cosmogenic-are present in a combined form, as well as by a very limited understanding of the in situ component. This study measured (CH4)-C-14 and (CO)-C-14 content in glacial firn with unprecedented precision to advance understanding of the in situ C-14 component. (CH4)-C-14 and (CO)-C-14 were melt-extracted on site at Summit, Greenland from three very large (similar to 1000 kg each) replicate samples of firn that spanned a depth range of 3.6-5.6 m. Non-cosmogenic C-14 contributions were carefully characterized through simulated extractions and a suite of supporting measurements. In situ cosmogenic (CO)-C-14 was quantified to better than +/- 0.6 molecules g(-1) ice, improving on the precision of the best prior ice (CO)-C-14 measurements by an order of magnitude. The (CO)-C-14 measurements indicate that most (>99%) of the in situ cosmogenic C-14 is rapidly lost from shallow Summit firn to the atmosphere. Despite this rapid C-14 loss, our measurements successfully quantified (CH4)-C-14 in the retained fraction of cosmogenic C-14 (to +/- 0.01 molecules g(-1) ice or better), and demonstrate for the first time that a significant amount of (CH4)-C-14 is produced by cosmic rays in natural ice. This conclusion increases the confidence in the results of an earlier study that used measurements of (CH4)-C-14 in glacial ice to show that wetlands were the likely main driver of the large and rapid atmospheric CH4 increase approximately 1 1.6 kyr ago. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Kawamura, K, Severinghaus JP, Albert MR, Courville ZR, Fahnestock MA, Scambos T, Shields E, Shuman CA.  2013.  Kinetic fractionation of gases by deep air convection in polar firn. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. 13:11141-11155.   10.5194/acp-13-11141-2013   AbstractWebsite

A previously unrecognized type of gas fractionation occurs in firn air columns subjected to intense convection. It is a form of kinetic fractionation that depends on the fact that different gases have different molecular diffusivities. Convective mixing continually disturbs diffusive equilibrium, and gases diffuse back toward diffusive equilibrium under the influence of gravity and thermal gradients. In near-surface firn where convection and diffusion compete as gas transport mechanisms, slow-diffusing gases such as krypton (Kr) and xenon (Xe) are more heavily impacted by convection than fast diffusing gases such as nitrogen (N-2) and argon (Ar), and the signals are preserved in deep firn and ice. We show a simple theory that predicts this kinetic effect, and the theory is confirmed by observations using a newly-developed Kr and Xe stable isotope system in air samples from the Megadunes field site on the East Antarctic plateau. Numerical simulations confirm the effect's magnitude at this site. A main purpose of this work is to support the development of a proxy indicator of past convection in firn, for use in ice-core gas records. To this aim, we also show with the simulations that the magnitude of the kinetic effect is fairly insensitive to the exact profile of convective strength, if the overall thickness of the convective zone is kept constant. These results suggest that it may be feasible to test for the existence of an extremely deep (similar to 30-40 m) convective zone, which has been hypothesized for glacial maxima, by future ice-core measurements.

2009
Severinghaus, JP, Beaudette R, Headly MA, Taylor K, Brook EJ.  2009.  Oxygen-18 of O2 Records the Impact of Abrupt Climate Change on the Terrestrial Biosphere. Science. 324:1431-1434.   10.1126/science.1169473   AbstractWebsite

Photosynthesis and respiration occur widely on Earth's surface, and the O-18/O-16 ratio of the oxygen produced and consumed varies with climatic conditions. As a consequence, the history of climate is reflected in the deviation of the O-18/O-16 of air (delta O-18(atm)) from seawater delta O-18 (known as the Dole effect). We report variations in delta O-18(atm) over the past 60,000 years related to Heinrich and Dansgaard-Oeschger events, two modes of abrupt climate change observed during the last ice age. Correlations with cave records support the hypothesis that the Dole effect is primarily governed by the strength of the Asian and North African monsoons and confirm that widespread changes in low-latitude terrestrial rainfall accompanied abrupt climate change. The rapid delta O-18(atm) changes can also be used to synchronize ice records by providing global time markers.

2006
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.

2004
Landais, A, Caillon N, Severinghaus J, Barnola JM, Goujon C, Jouzel J, Masson-Delmotte V.  2004.  Isotopic measurements of air trapped in ice to quantify temperature changes. Comptes Rendus Geoscience. 336:963-970.   10.1016/j.crte.2004.03.013   AbstractWebsite

Isotopic measurements of air trapped in ice to quantify temperature changes. Isotopic measurements in polar ice core have shown a succession of rapid warming periods during the last glacial period over Greenland. However, this method underestimates the surface temperature variations. A new method based on gas thermal diffusion in the firn manages to quantify surface temperature variations through associated isotopic fractionations. We developed a method to extract air from the ice and to perform isotopic measurements to reduce analytical uncertainties to 0.006 and 0.020parts per thousand for delta(15)N and delta(40)Ar. It led to a 16 +/- 1.5degreesC surface temperature variation during a rapid warming (-70000 yr). (C) 2004 Academie des sciences. Publie par Elsevier SAS. Tous droits reserves.