Ethane Measurements in the Intermediate Depth South Pole Ice Core (SPICECORE)
This award supports a project to measure ethane in ice core air extracted from the recently drilled intermediate depth South Pole ice core (SPICECORE). Ethane is an abundant hydrocarbon in the atmosphere. The ice core samples that will be used in this analysis will span about 150 years before present to about 55,000 years before present and therefore, ethane emissions linked to human activities are not a subject of this study. The study will focus on quantifying the variability in the natural sources of ethane and the processes that govern its removal from the atmosphere. A long-term ice core ethane record will provide new knowledge on the chemistry of Earth?s atmosphere during time periods when human influence was either much smaller than present day or non-existent. The broader impacts of this work include education and training of students and a contribution to a better understanding of the chemistry of the atmosphere in the past and how it has been impacted by past changes in climate.
Natural sources that emit ethane are both geologic (e.g. seeps, vents, mud volcanoes etc.) and pyrogenic (wild fires) which is commonly called biomass burning. Ethane is removed from the atmosphere via oxidation reactions. The ice core ethane measurements have great potential as a proxy for gaseous emissions from biomass burning. This is especially true for time periods preceding the industrial revolution when atmospheric variability of trace gases was largely controlled by natural processes. Another objective of this study is to improve understanding of the causes of atmospheric methane variability apparent which are in the existing ice core records. Methane is a simpler hydrocarbon than ethane and more abundant in the atmosphere. Even though the project does not include any methane measurements; the commonalities between the sources and removal of atmospheric ethane and methane mean that ethane measurements can be used to gain insight into the causes of changes in atmospheric methane levels. The broader impacts of the project include partial support for one Ph.D. student and support for undergraduate researchers at UC Irvine. The PIs group currently has 4 undergraduate researchers. The PI and the graduate students in the UCI ice core laboratory regularly participate in on- and off-campus activities such as laboratory tours and lectures directed towards educating high-school students and science teachers, and the local community at large about the scientific value of polar ice cores as an environmental record of our planet's past. The results of this research will be disseminated via peer-review publications and will contribute to policy-relevant activities such as the IPCC Climate Assessment. Data resulting from this project will be archived in a national data repository. This award does not have field work in Antarctica.
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