Collaborative Research: Reconstructing Carbon-14 of Atmospheric Carbon Monoxide from Law Dome, Antarctica to Constrain Long-Term Hydroxyl Radical Variability
Hydroxyl radicals are responsible for removal of most atmospheric trace gases, including pollutants and important greenhouse gases. They have been called the "detergent of the atmosphere". Changes in hydroxyl radical concentration in response to large changes in reactive trace gas emissions, which may happen in the future, are uncertain. This project aims to provide the first estimates of the variability of atmospheric hydroxyl radicals since about 1880 AD when anthropogenic emissions of reactive trace gases were minimal. This will improve understanding of their stability in response to large changes in emissions. The project will also investigate whether ice cores record past changes in Southern Hemisphere westerly winds. These winds are a key component of the global climate system, and have an important influence on ocean circulation and possibly on atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. The project team will include three early career scientists, a postdoctoral researcher, and graduate and undergraduate students, working in collaboration with senior scientists and Australian collaborators.
Firn air and shallow ice to a depth of about 233 m will be sampled at the Law Dome high-accumulation coastal site in East Antarctica. Trapped air will be extracted from the ice cores on site immediately after drilling. Carbon-14 of carbon monoxide (14CO) will be analyzed in firn and ice-core air samples. Corrections will be made for the in situ cosmogenic 14CO component in the ice, allowing for the atmospheric 14CO history to be reconstructed. This 14CO history will be interpreted with the aid of a chemistry-transport model to place the first observational constraints on the variability of Southern Hemisphere hydroxyl radical concentration after about 1880 AD. An additional component of the project will analyze Krypton-86 in the firn-air and ice-core samples. These measurements will explore whether ice-core Krypton-86 acts as a proxy for barometric pressure variability, and whether this proxy can be used in Antarctic ice cores to infer past movement of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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