Publications

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2013
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.

2010
Severinghaus, JP, Albert MR, Courville ZR, Fahnestock MA, Kawamura K, Montzka SA, Muhle J, Scambos TA, Shields E, Shuman CA, Suwa M, Tans P, Weiss RF.  2010.  Deep air convection in the firn at a zero-accumulation site, central Antarctica. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 293:359-367.   10.1016/j.epsl.2010.03.003   AbstractWebsite

Ice cores provide unique archives of past atmospheres and climate, but interpretation of trapped-gas records and their climatic significance has been hampered by a poor knowledge of the prevalence of air convection in the firn layer on top of polar ice sheets. In particular, the phasing of greenhouse gases and climate from ice cores has been obscured by a discrepancy between empirical and model-based estimates of the age difference between trapped gases and enclosing ice, which may be due to air convection. Here we show that deep air convection (>23 m) occurs at a windy, near-zero-accumulation rate site in central Antarctica known informally as the Megadunes site (80.77914 degrees S, 124.48796 degrees E). Deep convection is evident in depth profiles of air withdrawn from the firn layer, in the observed pattern of the nitrogen isotope ratio (15)N/(14)N, the argon isotope ratio (40)Ar/(36)Ar, and in the mixing ratios of the anthropogenic halocarbons methyl chloroform (CH(3)CCl(3)) and HFC-134a (CH(2)FCF(3)). Transport parameters (diffusivities) were inferred and air was dated using measured carbon dioxide (CO(2)) and methane (CH(4)) mixing ratios, by comparing with the Law Dome atmospheric record, which shows that these are the oldest firn air samples ever recovered (CO(2) mean age = 1863 AD). The low accumulation rate and the consequent intense metamorphism of the firn (due to prolonged exposure to seasonal temperature cycling) likely contribute to deep air convection via large grain size and vertical cracks that act as conduits for vigorous air motion. The Megadunes site provides a possible modern analog for the glacial conditions in the Vostok, Dome Fuji, and Dome C ice core records and a possible explanation for lower-than-expected (15)N/(14)N ratios in trapped air bubbles at these times. A general conclusion is that very low accumulation rate causes deep air convection via its effect on firn structural characteristics. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

2009
Fain, X, Ferrari CP, Dommergue A, Albert MR, Battle M, Severinghaus J, Arnaud L, Barnola JM, Cairns W, Barbante C, Boutron C.  2009.  Polar firn air reveals large-scale impact of anthropogenic mercury emissions during the 1970s. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 106:16114-16119.   10.1073/pnas.0905117106   AbstractWebsite

Mercury (Hg) is an extremely toxic pollutant, and its biogeochemical cycle has been perturbed by anthropogenic emissions during recent centuries. In the atmosphere, gaseous elemental mercury (GEM; Hg degrees) is the predominant form of mercury (up to 95%). Here we report the evolution of atmospheric levels of GEM in mid- to high-northern latitudes inferred from the interstitial air of firn (perennial snowpack) at Summit, Greenland. GEM concentrations increased rapidly after World War II from approximate to 1.5 ng m(-3) reaching a maximum of approximate to 3 ng m(-3) around 1970 and decreased until stabilizing at approximate to 1.7 ng m(-3) around 1995. This reconstruction reproduces real-time measurements available from the Arctic since 1995 and exhibits the same general trend observed in Europe since 1990. Anthropogenic emissions caused a two-fold rise in boreal atmospheric GEM concentrations before the 1970s, which likely contributed to higher deposition of mercury in both industrialized and remotes areas. Once deposited, this toxin becomes available for methylation and, subsequently, the contamination of ecosystems. Implementation of air pollution regulations, however, enabled a large-scale decline in atmospheric mercury levels during the 1980s. The results shown here suggest that potential increases in emissions in the coming decades could have a similar large-scale impact on atmospheric Hg levels.

2003
Severinghaus, JP, Grachev A, Luz B, Caillon N.  2003.  A method for precise measurement of argon 40/36 and krypton/argon ratios in trapped air in polar ice with applications to past firn thickness and abrupt climate change in Greenland and at Siple Dome, Antarctica. Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta. 67:325-343.   10.1016/s0016-7037(02)00965-1   AbstractWebsite

We describe a method for measuring the (40)Ar/(36)Ar ratio and the (84)Kr/(36)Ar ratio in air from bubbles trapped in ice cores. These ratios can provide constraints on the past thickness of the firn layer at the ice core site and on the magnitude of past rapid temperature variations when combined with measured (15)N/(14)N. Both variables contribute to paleoclimatic studies and ultimately to the understanding of the controls on Earth's climate. The overall precision of the (40)Ar/(36)Ar method (1 standard error of the mean) is 0.012parts per thousand for a sample analyzed in duplicate, corresponding to +/-0.6 in in reconstructed firn thickness. We use conventional dynamic isotope ratio mass spectrometry with minor modifications and special gas handling techniques designed to avoid fractionation. About 100 g of ice is used for a duplicate pair of analyses. An example of the technique applied to the GISP2 ice core yields an estimate of 11 +/- 3K of abrupt warming at the end of the last glacial period 15,000 years ago. The krypton/argon ratio can provide a diagnostic of argon leakage out of the bubbles, which may happen (naturally) during bubble close-off or (artifactually) if samples are warmed near the freezing point during core retrieval or storage. Argon leakage may fractionate the remaining (40)Ar/(36)Ar ratio by +0.007parts per thousand per parts per thousand change in (84)Kr/(36)Ar, introducing a possible bias in reconstructed firn thickness of about +2 in if thermal diffusion is not accounted for or +6 in if thermal diffusion effects are quantified with measured (15)N/(14)N. Reproducibility of (84)Kr/(36)Ar measured in air is about +/-0.2parts per thousand (1 standard error of the mean) but is about +/-1parts per thousand for ice core samples. Ice core samples are systematically enriched in (84)Kr/(36)Ar relative to atmosphere by similar to5parts per thousand, probably reflecting preferential size-dependent exclusion of the smaller argon atom during bubble entrapment. Recent results from the Siple Dome ice core reveal two climate events during the last deglaciation, including an 18-in reduction in firn thickness associated with an abrupt warming at sometime between 18 and 22 kyr BP and a partial or total removal of the firn during an ablation event at 15.3 kyr BP. Copyright (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd.