Climate Clues in an Antarctic Glacier

Purpose:
Help settle debate about the source of ancient increases in methane, a powerful greenhouse gas
Funding:
$294,755, National Science Foundation
Jobs:
five, including graduate and undergraduate students, a post-doctoral scientist and two faculty members

Ed BrookIf you need to answer a climate question, head to Antarctica. That’s where scientists find clues locked in glaciers and ice sheets.

ARRA funds are enabling a team of OSU researchers to collect and analyze ice from Taylor Glacier and shed light on one of the most powerful greenhouse gases: methane.

One of the world’ leading ice core specialists, Oregon State University geoscientist Ed Brook, directs the project with Jeff Severinghaus at the University of California, San Diego. Brook analyzes trace gases in ice cores to reveal how the Earth’s atmosphere changes naturally over time. He is co-chair of the International Partnership in Ice Core Science, a 19-nation group that is studying some of the oldest Antarctic ice.

In the distant past, methane concentrations have spiked up abruptly in the atmosphere for reasons that are unclear. Likely sources include wetlands and methane ice — in a form known as “clathrates” — trapped in permafrost and on the sea floor. Methane is about 20 times more effective than carbon-dioxide at trapping heat.

Do modern human activities increase the chances for future methane spikes in the atmosphere? Taylor Glacier may provide an answer.

 

See ARRA projects funded in Oregon by the National Science Foundation.