Collaborative Research: Methane Isotopes, Hydrocarbons, and other Trace Gases in South Pole Firn Air

  • Sowers, Todd Anthony (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details



This award supports a project to make measurements of methane and other trace gases in firn air collected at South Pole, Antarctica. The analyses will include: methane isotopes (delta-13CH4 and delta-DCH4), light non-methane hydrocarbons (ethane, propane, and n-butane), sulfur gases (COS, CS2), and methyl halides (CH3Cl and CH3Br). The atmospheric burdens of these trace gases reflect changes in atmospheric OH, biomass burning, biogenic activity in terrestrial, oceanic, and wetland ecosystems, and industrial/agricultural activity. The goal of this project is to develop atmospheric histories for these trace gases over the last century through examination of depth profiles of these gases in South Pole firn air. The project will involve two phases: 1) a field campaign at South Pole, Antarctica to drill two firn holes and fill a total of ~200 flasks from depths reaching 120 m, 2) analysis of firn air at University of California, Irvine, Penn State University, and several other collaborating laboratories. Atmospheric histories will be inferred from the measurements using a one dimensional advective/diffusive model of firn air transport. This study will provide new information about the recent changes in atmospheric levels of these gases, providing about a 90 year long time series record that connects the earlier surface and firn air measurements to present day. The project will also explore the possibility of in- situ production of light non-methane hydrocarbons in firn air that is relevant to the interpretation of ice core records. The broader impacts of this research are that it has the potential for significant societal impact by improving our understanding of climate change and man's input to the atmosphere. The results of this work will be disseminated through the peer review process, and will contribute to environmental assessments, such as the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Assessment and the Word Meteorological Organization (WMO) Stratospheric Ozone Assessment. This research will provide educational opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, and will contribute to a teacher training program for K-12 teachers in minority school districts.

Effective start/end date6/15/085/31/11


  • National Science Foundation: $134,167.00


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