Fugitive Gases (Helium, Neon, and Oxygen) in the WAIS Divide Ice Core as Tracers of Basal Processes and Past Biospheric Carbon Storage
This award supports a project to extend the study of gases in ice cores to those gases whose small molecular diameters cause them to escape rapidly from ice samples (the so-called "fugitive gases"). The work will employ helium, neon, argon, and oxygen measurements in the WAIS Divide ice core to better understand the mechanism of the gas close-off fractionation that occurs while air bubbles are incorporated into ice. The intellectual merit of the proposed work is that corrections for this fractionation using neon (which is constant in the atmosphere) may ultimately enable the first ice core-based atmospheric oxygen and helium records. Neon may also illuminate the mechanistic link between local insolation and oxygen used for astronomical dating of ice cores. Helium measure-ments in the deepest ~100 m of the core will also shed light on the stratigraphic integrity of the basal ice, and serve as a probe of solid earth-ice interaction at the base of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Past atmospheric oxygen records, currently unavailable prior to 1989 CE, would reveal changes in the size of the terrestrial biosphere carbon pool that accompany climate variations and place constraints on the biogeochemical feedback response to future warming. An atmospheric helium-3/helium-4 record would test the hypothesis that the solar wind (which is highly enriched in helium-3) condensed directly into Earth?s atmosphere during the collapse of the geomagnetic field that occurred 41,000 years ago, known as the Laschamp Event. Fugitive-gas samples will be taken on-site immediately after recovery of the ice core by the PI and one postdoctoral scholar, under the umbrella of an existing project to support replicate coring and borehole deepening. This work will add value to the scientific return from field work activity with little additional cost to logistical resources. The broader impacts of the work on atmospheric oxygen are that it may increase understanding of how terrestrial carbon pools and atmospheric greenhouse gas sources will respond in a feedback sense to the coming warming. Long-term atmospheric oxygen trends are also of interest for understanding biogeochemical regulatory mechanisms and the impact of atmospheric evolution on life. Helium records have value in understanding the budget of this non-renewable gas and its implications for space weather and solar activity. The project will train one graduate student and one postdoctoral scholar. The fascination of linking solid earth, cryosphere, atmosphere, and space weather will help to entrain and excite young scientists and efforts to understand the Earth as a whole interlinked system will provide fuel to outreach efforts at all ages.
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