Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
16 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 16 Jan 2015

Tree ring effects and ice core acidities clarify the volcanic record of the first millennium

M. G. L. Baillie and J. McAneney

Abstract. In 2012 Plummer et al., in presenting the volcanic chronology of the Antarctic Law Dome ice core, chose to list connections to acid layers in other ice cores and also possible chronological coincidences between ice acid dates and the precise dates of frost damage, and/or reduced growth in North American bristlecone pines. We disagree with the chronological links indicated by Plummer et al. for the period before AD 700, and in this paper we show that a case can be made that better linkages between ice acid and tree ring effects occur for this period if the ice chronologies are systematically moved forward by around 7 years, consistent with a hypothesis published by Baillie in 2008. In the paper we seek to explore the proposition that frost damage rings in North American bristlecone pines are a very useful indicator of the dates of certain large explosive volcanic eruptions; the dating of major eruptions being critical for any clear understanding of volcanic forcing. This paper cannot prove that there is an error in the Greenland Ice Core Chronology 2005 (GICC05), and in equivalent ice chronologies from the Antarctic, however, it does provide a coherent argument for an apparent ice dating offset. If the suggested offset were to prove correct it would be necessary to locate where the error occurs in the ice chronologies and in this regard the dating of the increasingly controversial Icelandic Eldgjá eruption in the AD 930s, and the China/Korean Millennium eruption which occurs some 7 years after Eldgjá, may well be critical. In addition, if the offset were to be substantiated it would have implications for the alleged identification of tephra at 429.3 m in the Greenland GRIP core, currently attributed to the Italian volcano Vesuvius and used as a critical zero error point in the GICC05 chronology.

Short summary
Ice core acidities agree with historical volcanic eruptions and tree ring effects in recent centuries, but in the 1st millennium, ice acid dates appear offset from tree ring evidence. This offset appears real between AD 1000 and 50 BC. If correct, then current identification of Vesuvius tephra at AD 79 is erroneous, and geophysicists are working with a false volcanic record especially regarding multiple eruptions in AD 536 and 540-541, highlighting a major global hazard in proximate eruptions.