Tracing Glacial-interglacial Changes in the Dust Source to Antarctica using Helium Isotopes
This award supports a project to study dust sources in Antarctic ice cores. Atmospheric aerosols play an important role both in global biogeochemical cycles as well as in the climate system of the Earth. Records extracted from Antarctic ice cores inform us that dust deposition from the atmosphere to the ice sheet was 15-20 times greater during glacial periods than during interglacials, which raises the possibility that dust may be a key player in climate change on glacial-interglacial timescales. By characterizing potential source areas from South America, South Africa, and Australia as well as fresh glacial flour from Patagonia, the project will determine if the interglacial dust was mobilized from a distinct geographical region (e.g., Australia) or from a more heavily weathered source region in South America. The intellectual merit of the project is that it will contribute to reconstructing climate-related changes in the rate of dust deposition, and in the provenance of the dust, it will provide critical constraints on hydrology and vegetation in the source regions, as well as on the nature of the atmospheric circulation transporting dust to the archive location. In a recent pilot study it was found that there is a dramatic glacial to Holocene change in the 4He/Ca ratio in the dust extracted from ice from Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, indicating a shift in the source of dust transported to Antarctica. The broader impacts of the project are that Helium isotopes and calcium measurements provide a wealth of information that can then be turned into critical input for dust-climate models. Improved models, which are able to accurately reconstruct paleo dust distribution, will help us to predict changes in dust in response to future climate variability. This information will contribute to an improvement of our integrated understanding of the Earth's climate system and, in turn, will better inform policy makers of those processes and conditions most susceptible to perturbation by climate change, thereby leading to more meaningful climate-change policy. The project will support a graduate student in the dual masters Earth and Environmental Science Journalism program. The lead-PI manages the rock noble gas laboratory at Lamont. Her leadership role in this facility impacts the training of undergraduate and graduate students as well as visiting scientists.
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