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Severinghaus, JP, Keeling RF, Miller BR, Weiss RF, Deck B, Broecker WS.  1997.  Feasibility of using sand dunes as archives of old air. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 102:16783-16792.   10.1029/97jd00525   AbstractWebsite

Large unaltered samples of the atmosphere covering the past century would complement the history of atmospheric gases obtained from bubbles in ice cores, enabling measurement of geochemically important species such as O-2, (CH4)-C-14, and (CO)-C-14. Sand dunes are a porous media with interstitial air in diffusive contact with the atmosphere, somewhat analogous to the unconsolidated layer of firn atop glaciers. Recent studies have demonstrated the value of firn as an archive of old air [Battle et al., 1996; Bender et al., 1994a]. Unlike firn, sand dunes are incompressible and so remain permeable to greater depths and may extend the firn record into the past century. To evaluate the feasibility of using sand dunes as archives of old air, we drilled 60 m deep test holes in the Algodones Dunes, Imperial Valley, California. The main objective was to see if the air in a sand dune is as old as predicted by a diffusion model, or if the dune is rapidly flushed by advective pumping during windstorms and barometric pressure changes. We dated the air with chlorofluorocarbons and krypton-85, anthropogenic tracers whose atmospheric concentrations are known and have been increasing rapidly in the past half century. These tracer data match the pure diffusion model well, showing that advection in this dune is negligible compared to diffusion as a transport mechanism and that the mean age of the air at 61 m depth is similar to 10 years. Dunes therefore do contain old air. However, dunes appear to suffer from two serious drawbacks as archives. Microbial metabolism is evident in elevated CO2 and N2O and depressed CH4 and O-2 concentrations in this dune, corrupting the signals of interest in this and probably most dunes. Second, isotopic analyses of N-2 and O-2 from the dune show that fractionation of the gases occurs due to diffusion of water vapor, complicating the interpretation of the O-2 signal beyond the point of viability for an air archive. Sand dunes may be useful for relatively inert gases with large atmospheric concentration changes such as chlorofluorocarbons.

Rasmussen, SO, Abbott PM, Blunier T, Bourne AJ, Brook E, Buchardt SL, Buizert C, Chappellaz J, Clausen HB, Cook E, Dahl-Jensen D, Davies SM, Guillevic M, Kipfstuhl S, Laepple T, Seierstad IK, Severinghaus JP, Steffensen JP, Stowasser C, Svensson A, Vallelonga P, Vinther BM, Wilhelms F, Winstrup M.  2013.  A first chronology for the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) ice core. Climate of the Past. 9:2713-2730.   10.5194/cp-9-2713-2013   AbstractWebsite

A stratigraphy-based chronology for the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) ice core has been derived by transferring the annual layer counted Greenland Ice Core Chronology 2005 (GICC05) and its model extension (GICC05modelext) from the NGRIP core to the NEEM core using 787 match points of mainly volcanic origin identified in the electrical conductivity measurement (ECM) and dielectrical profiling (DEP) records. Tephra horizons found in both the NEEM and NGRIP ice cores are used to test the matching based on ECM and DEP and provide five additional horizons used for the timescale transfer. A thinning function reflecting the accumulated strain along the core has been determined using a Dansgaard-Johnsen flow model and an isotope-dependent accumulation rate parameterization. Flow parameters are determined from Monte Carlo analysis constrained by the observed depth-age horizons. In order to construct a chronology for the gas phase, the ice age-gas age difference (Delta age) has been reconstructed using a coupled firn densification-heat diffusion model. Temperature and accumulation inputs to the Delta age model, initially derived from the water isotope proxies, have been adjusted to optimize the fit to timing constraints from delta N-15 of nitrogen and high-resolution methane data during the abrupt onset of Greenland interstadials. The ice and gas chronologies and the corresponding thinning function represent the first chronology for the NEEM core, named GICC05modelext-NEEM-1. Based on both the flow and firn modelling results, the accumulation history for the NEEM site has been reconstructed. Together, the timescale and accumulation reconstruction provide the necessary basis for further analysis of the records from NEEM.

Severinghaus, JP, Battle MO.  2006.  Fractionation of gases in polar lee during bubble close-off: New constraints from firn air Ne, Kr and Xe observations. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 244:474-500.   10.1016/j.epsl.2006.01.032   AbstractWebsite

Gas ratios in air withdrawn from polar firn (snowpack) show systematic enrichments of Ne/N(2), O(2)/N(2) and Ar/N(2), in the firn-ice transition region where bubbles are closing off. Air from the bubbles in polar ice is correspondingly depleted in these ratios, after accounting for gravitational effects. Gas in the bubbles becomes fractionated during the process of bubble close-off and fractionation may continue as ice cores are stored prior to analysis. We present results from firn air studies at South Pole and Siple Dome, Antarctica, which add Ne, Kr and Xe measurements to the suite of observations. Ne, O(2) and Ar appear to be preferentially excluded from the shrinking and occluding bubbles, and these gases therefore accumulate in the residual firn air, creating a progressive enrichment with time (and depth) in firn air. Early sealing of gases by thin horizontal impermeable layers into a nondiffusive zone or "lock-in zone" greatly enhances this enrichment. A simple model of the bubble close-off fractionation and lock-in zone enrichment fits the data adequately. The model presumes that fractionation is caused by selective permeation of gas through the ice lattice from slightly overpressured bubbles. The effect appears to be size-dependent, because Ne, 02 and Ar have smaller effective molecular diameters than N(2), and fractionation increases strongly with decreasing size. Ne is fractionated 34 2 times more than 0, in South Pole firn air and reaches an enrichment of 90 parts per thousand in the deepest sample. The large atoms Kr and Xe do not appear to be fractionated by this process, despite the large size difference between the two gases, suggesting a threshold atomic diameter of similar to 3.6 angstrom above which the probability becomes very small that the gas will escape from the bubble. These findings have implications for ice core and firn air studies that use gas ratios to infer paleotemperature, chronology and past atmospheric composition. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V.. All rights reserved.

Severinghaus, JP, Bender ML, Keeling RF, Broecker WS.  1996.  Fractionation of soil gases by diffusion of water vapor, gravitational settling, and thermal diffusion. Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta. 60:1005-1018.   10.1016/0016-7037(96)00011-7   AbstractWebsite

Air sampled from the moist unsaturated zone in a sand dune exhibits depletion in the heavy isotopes of N-2 and O-2. We propose that the depletion is caused by a diffusive flux of water vapor out of the dune, which sweeps out the other gases, forcing them to diffuse back into the dune. The heavy isotopes of N-2 and O-2 diffuse back more slowly, resulting in a steady-state depletion of the heavy isotopes in the dune interior. We predict the effect's magnitude with molecular diffusion theory and reproduce it in a laboratory simulation, finding good agreement between field, theory, and lab. The magnitude of the effect is governed by the ratio of the binary diffusivities against water vapor of a pair of gases, and increases similar to linearly with the difference between the water vapor mole fraction of the site and the advectively mixed reservoir with which it is in diffusive contact (in most cases the atmosphere). The steady-state effect is given by delta(i) = [i/j/i(0)/j(0) - 1] 10(3) parts per thousand congruent to [(1 - x(H2O)/1 - x(H2O0))((Dj-H2O/Di-H2O)-1) -1] 10(3) parts per thousand, where delta(i) is the fractional deviation in permil of the gas i/gas j ratio from the advectively mixed reservoir, x(H2O) and x(H2O0) are respectively the mole fractions of water vapor at the site and in the advectively mixed reservoir, and D-i-H2O is the binary diffusion coefficient of gas i with water vapor. The effect is independent of scale at steady state, but approaches steady state with the time constant of diffusion set by the length scale. Exploiting the mechanism, we make an experimental estimate of the relative diffusivities of O-2 and N-2 against water vapor, finding that O-2 diffuses 3.6 +/- 0.3% faster than N-2 despite its greater mass. We also confirm in the study dune the presence of two additional known processes: gravitational fractionation, heretofore seen only in the unconsolidated firn of polar ice sheets, and thermal diffusion, well described in laboratory studies but not seen previously in nature. We predict that soil gases in general will exhibit the three effects described here, the water vapor flux fractionation effect, gravitational fractionation, and thermal diffusion. However, our analysis neglects Knudsen diffusion and thus may be inapplicable to fine-grained soils.

Atwater, T, Sclater J, Sandwell D, Severinghaus J, Marlow M.  1993.  Fracture zone traces across the North Pacific Cretaceous Quiet Zone and their tectonic implications. The Mesozoic Pacific : geology, tectonics, and volcanism : a volume in memory of Sy Schlanger. ( Pringle MS, Sager WW, Sliter WV, Stein S, Eds.).:137-154., Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union Abstract