Collaborative Research: A "Horizontal Ice Core" for Large-Volume Samples of the Past Atmosphere, Taylor Glacier, Antarctica
This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).
This award supports a project to develop a precise gas-based chronology for an archive of large-volume samples of the ancient atmosphere, which would enable ultra-trace gas measurements that are currently precluded by sample size limitations of ice cores. The intellectual merit of the proposed work is that it will provide a critical test of the "clathrate hypothesis" that methane clathrates contributed to the two abrupt atmospheric methane concentration increases during the last deglaciation 15 and 11 kyr ago. This approach employs large volumes of ice (>1 ton) to measure carbon-14 on past atmospheric methane across the abrupt events. Carbon-14 is an ideal discriminator of fossil sources of methane to the atmosphere, because most methane sources (e.g., wetlands, termites, biomass burning) are rich in carbon-14, whereas clathrates and other fossil sources are devoid of carbon-14. The proposed work is a logical extension to Taylor Glacier, Antarctica, of an approach pioneered at the margin of the Greenland ice sheet over the past 7 years. The Greenland work found higher-than-expected carbon-14 values, likely due in part to contaminants stemming from the high impurity content of Greenland ice and the interaction of the ice with sediments from the glacier bed. The data also pointed to the possibility of a previously unknown process, in-situ cosmogenic production of carbon-14 methane (radiomethane) in the ice matrix. Antarctic ice in Taylor Glacier is orders of magnitude cleaner than the ice at the Greenland site, and is much colder and less stratigraphically disturbed, offering the potential for a clear resolution of this puzzle and a definitive test of the cosmogenic radiomethane hypothesis. Even if cosmogenic radiomethane in ice is found, it still may be possible to reconstruct atmospheric radiomethane with a correction enabled by a detailed understanding of the process, which will be sought by co-measuring carbon-14 in carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The broader impacts of the proposed work are that the clathrate test may shed light on the stability of the clathrate reservoir and its potential for climate feedbacks under human-induced warming. Development of Taylor Glacier as a "horizontal ice core" would provide a community resource for other researchers. Education of one postdoc, one graduate student, and one undergraduate, would add to human resources. This award has field work in Antarctica.
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