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Using high-resolution tritium profiles to quantify the effects of melt on two Spitsbergen ice cores

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Ice cores from small ice caps provide valuable climatic information, additional to that of Greenland and Antarctica. However, their integrity is usually compromised by summer meltwater percolation. To determine to what extent this can affect such ice cores, we performed high-resolution tritium measurements on samples from two ice cores from Spitsbergen covering the period AD 1955–75. The very sharp and distinct peaks in the tritium precipitation record are subject to several post-depositional processes. We developed a model that uses the precipitation record as input and incorporates the three most important processes (radioactive decay, isotope diffusion and meltwater percolation). Results are compared with measured tritium and density profiles. Both ice-core records contain sharp bomb peaks in the pre-1963 period. It is shown that these peaks would be much smoother in the absence of melt. In this case the main effect of melt and the refreezing of percolation water is the formation of ice layers that form barriers for firn diffusion; thus melt paradoxically results in better preservation of the annual isotope signals. Conversely, for the period after 1963 the main effect of melt is a stronger smoothing of the tritium profiles.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2011

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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