Picture Climate: What Can We Learn from Ice?

Ice consists of water molecules made of atoms that come in versions with slightly different mass, so-called isotopes. Variations in the abundance of the heavy isotopes relative to the most common isotopes can be measured and are found to reflect the temperature variations through the year. The graph below shows how the isotopes correlate with the local temperature over a few years in the early s at the GRIP drill site:. The dashed lines indicate the winter layers and define the annual layers. How far back in time the annual layers can be identified depends on the thickness of the layers, which again depends on the amount of annual snowfall, the accumulation, and how deep the layers have moved into the ice sheet. As the ice layers get older, the isotopes slowly move around and gradually weaken the annual signal. Read more about – diffusion of stable isotopes – how the DYE-3 ice core has been dated using stable isotope data – how stable isotope measurements are performed – stable isotopes as indicators of past temperatures – how annual layers are identified using impurity data. Move the mouse over individual words to see a short explanation of the word or click on the word to go to the relevant page. For more information on the topic please contact Bo Vinther.

Ice core basics

Any groups that have been impacted by the tour shutdown will be prioritized when we resume tour operations. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Glaciers form as layers of snow accumulate on top of each other. Each layer of snow is different in chemistry and texture, summer snow differing from winter snow. Over time, the buried snow compresses under the weight of the snow above it, forming ice. Particulates and dissolved chemicals that were captured by the falling snow become a part of the ice, as do bubbles of trapped air.

expected to improve our understanding of Eastern Greenland climatic marker that we used to significantly improve the dating accuracy of the ice-core.

Polar ice results from the progressive densification of snow deposited at the surface of the ice sheet. The transformation of snow into ice generally occurs within the first meters and takes from decades to millennia, depending on temperature and accumulation rate, to be completed. During the first stage of densification, recrystallization of the snow grains occurs until the closest dense packing stage is reached at relative densities of about 0.

Then plastic deformation becomes the dominant process and the pores progressively become isolated from the surface atmosphere. The end product of this huge natural sintering experiment is ice, an airtight material. Because of the extreme climatic conditions, the polar ice is generally kept at negative temperatures well below the freezing point, a marked difference to the ice of temperate mountain glaciers. Skip to main content Skip to table of contents. This service is more advanced with JavaScript available.

Encyclopedia of Paleoclimatology and Ancient Environments Edition. Contents Search.

Record-shattering 2.7-million-year-old ice core reveals start of the ice ages

Guest commentary from Jonny McAneney. You heard it here first …. Back in February, we wrote a post suggesting that Greenland ice cores may have been incorrectly dated in prior to AD This was based on research by Baillie and McAneney which compared the spacing between frost ring events physical scarring of living growth rings by prolonged sub-zero temperatures in the bristlecone pine tree ring chronology, and spacing between prominent acids in a suite of ice cores from both Greenland and Antarctica.

Last month, in an excellent piece of research Sigl et al. The clinching evidence was provided by linking tree-ring chronologies to ice cores through two extraterrestrial events….

while ice cores from sites with higher accumu- lation offer continuous records of very high temporal resolution. For example, Greenland ice-core records reach.

I was wondering how ice cores are dated accurately. I know Carbon 14 is one method, but some ice cores go back hundreds of thousands of years. Would other isotopes with longer half-lives be more accurate? Also, how much does it cost to date the core? How are samples acquired without destroying the ice? I imagine keeping the ice intact as much as possible would be extremely valuable. Some of the answers to these questions are available on the Ice Core Basics page. Ice cores can be dated using counting of annual layers in their uppermost layers.

Dating the ice becomes harder with depth. Usually multiple methods are used to improve accuracy. Common global stratigraphic markers are palaeo-events that occur worldwide synchronously, and can allow wiggle-matching between ice cores and other palaeo archives e. For the ice matrix, these global stratigraphic markers can include spikes in volcanic ash each volcanic eruption has a unique chemical signature , or volcanic sulfate spikes.

For the gas phase, methane, and oxygen isotopic ratio of O 2 have been used Lemieux-Dudon et al.

Ice Core Data Help Solve a Global Warming Mystery

Based on an early Greenland ice core record produced back in , versions of the graph have, variously, mislabeled the x-axis, excluded the modern observational temperature record and conflated a single location in Greenland with the whole world. More recently, researchers have drilled numerous additional ice cores throughout Greenland and produced an updated estimate past Greenland temperatures. This modern temperature reconstruction, combined with observational records over the past century, shows that current temperatures in Greenland are warmer than any period in the past 2, years.

However, warming is expected to continue in the future as human actions continue to emit greenhouse gases, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels.

The oldest continuous ice core records to date extend , years in Greenland and , years in Antarctica. Ice cores contain.

Sune O. Rasmussen, A. Svensson and M. Polar ice cores reveal past climate change in ever-growing temporal resolution. Novel automated methods and improved manual annual layer identification allow for bipolar year-to-year investigations of climate events tens of thousands of years back in time. Ice cores from Antarctica, from the Greenland ice sheet, and from a number of smaller glaciers around the world yield a wealth of information on past climates and environments including unique records of past temperatures, atmospheric composition for example greenhouse gasses , volcanism, solar activity, dustiness, and biomass burning.

Some ice-core records from Antarctica extend back in time more than , years Jouzel et al. For example, Greenland ice-core records reach back into the penultimate interglacial , years ago with annual or close to annual resolution NEEM community members To maximize the knowledge gain from ice cores it is essential to establish accurate and precise chronologies that assign an age to each depth segment. A key property of high-resolution ice-core records is annual layering, which allows for the construction of a very accurate chronology by counting layers back as far as tens of thousands of years.

New high-resolution measurements and improved algorithms for automated and objective annual layer counting are currently being developed to allow refinement and extension of these chronologies. The ages are A , B , and C years before A. Gray bars show manually identified winter minima. D The ice flow leads to annual layer thinning that together with diffusion ultimately leads to a loss of the annual signal with depth.

Ice core dating using stable isotope data

Ice cores are cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet or glacier. Most ice core records come from Antarctica and Greenland, and the longest ice cores extend to 3km in depth. The oldest continuous ice core records to date extend , years in Greenland and , years in Antarctica. Ice cores contain information about past temperature, and about many other aspects of the environment. Crucially, the ice encloses small bubbles of air that contain a sample of the atmosphere — from these it is possible to measure directly the past concentration of gases including carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.

Dating of Greenland ice cores by flow models, isotopes, volcanic debris, and continental dust.” Journal of Glaciology, Hammer, C.U., H.B. Clausen, and W.

An ice core is a cylinder shaped sample of ice drilled from a glacier. Ice core records provide the most direct and detailed way to investigate past climate and atmospheric conditions. Snowfall that collects on glaciers each year captures atmospheric concentrations of dust, sea-salts, ash, gas bubbles and human pollutants.

Analysis of the. Ice core records can be used to reconstruct temperature, atmospheric circulation strength, precipitation, ocean volume, atmospheric dust, volcanic eruptions, solar variability, marine biological productivity, sea ice and desert extent, and forest fires. Examples of aerosols and chemical elements that are transported and deposited on ice sheets and glaciers. Seasonal markers such as stable isotope ratios of water vary depending on temperature and can reveal warmer and colder periods of the year.

Other seasonal markers may include dust; certain regions have seasonal dust storms and therefore can be used to count individual years.

East Greenland ice core dust record reveals timing of Greenland ice sheet advance and retreat

Ice cores are one of the most effective, though not the only, methods of recreating long term records of temperature and atmospheric gases. Particularly in the polar region, but also at high elevations elsewhere, snow falls on an annual cycle and remains permanently. Over time, a few decades, the layers of snow compact under their own weight and become ice.

By drilling through that ice, and recovering cylinders of it, it is possible to reconstruct records of temperature and of atmospheric gases for periods of hundreds of thousands of years. Technologically the recovery of ice cores and their analysis is an amazing feat.

Numerous strategies are currently applied for dating the ice matrix and the gas phase along ice cores: (i) wiggle matching of ice core records to insolation time.

Why use ice cores? How do ice cores work? Layers in the ice Information from ice cores Further reading References Comments. Current period is at right. Wikimedia Commons. Ice sheets have one particularly special property. They allow us to go back in time and to sample accumulation, air temperature and air chemistry from another time[1]. Ice core records allow us to generate continuous reconstructions of past climate, going back at least , years[2].

By looking at past concentrations of greenhouse gasses in layers in ice cores, scientists can calculate how modern amounts of carbon dioxide and methane compare to those of the past, and, essentially, compare past concentrations of greenhouse gasses to temperature. Ice coring has been around since the s. Ice cores have been drilled in ice sheets worldwide, but notably in Greenland[3] and Antarctica[4, 5].

Through analysis of ice cores, scientists learn about glacial-interglacial cycles, changing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and climate stability over the last 10, years. Many ice cores have been drilled in Antarctica.

Studying Ice Cores to Understand the Earth’s Climate