Project Information
Collaborative Research: Multiple-isotope Analysis of Nitrate and Sulfate in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core
WAIS Divide Ice Core
This award supports a project to develop the first complete record of multiple isotope ratios of nitrate and sulfate covering the last ~100,000 years, from the deep ice core planned for the central ice divide of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). The WAIS Divide ice core will be the highest resolution long ice core obtained from Antarctica and we can expect important complementary information to be available, including accurate knowledge of past accumulation rates, temperatures, and compounds such as H2O2, CO and CH4. These compounds play significant roles in global atmospheric chemistry and climate. Especially great potential lies in the use of multiple isotope signatures. The unique mass independent fractionation (MIF) 17O signature of ozone is observed in both nitrate and sulfate, due to the interaction of their precursors with ozone. The development of methods to measure the multiple-isotope composition of small samples of sulfate and nitrate makes continuous high resolution measurements on ice cores feasible for the first time. Recent work has shown that such measurements can be used to determine the hydroxyl radial (OH) and ozone (O3) concentrations in the paleoatmosphere as well as to apportion sulfate and nitrate sources. There is also considerable potential in using these isotope measurements to quantify post depositional changes. In the first two years, continuous measurements from the upper ~100-m of ice at WAIS divide will be obtained, to provide a detailed look at seasonal through centennial scale variability. In the third year, measurements will be made throughout the available depth of the deep core (expected to reach ~500 m at this time). The broader impacts of the project include applications to diverse fields including atmospheric chemistry, glaciology, meteorology, and paleoclimatology. Because nitrate and sulfate are important atmospheric pollutants, the results will also have direct and relevance to global environmental policy. This project will coincide with the International Polar Year (2007-2008), and contributes to goals of the IPY, which include the fostering of interdisciplinary research toward enhanced understanding of atmospheric chemistry and climate in the polar regions.
Person Role
Alexander, Becky Co-Investigator
Steig, Eric J. Investigator
Thiemens, Mark H. Investigator
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 0538520
Antarctic Glaciology Award # 0538049
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
  1. Geng, L., Schauer, A. J., Kunasek, S. A., Sofen, E. D., Erbland, J., Savarino, J., … Alexander, B. (2013). Analysis of oxygen-17 excess of nitrate and sulfate at sub-micromole levels using the pyrolysis method. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 27(21), 2411–2419. (doi:10.1002/rcm.6703)

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