Articles | Volume 9, issue 3
Clim. Past, 9, 983–999, 2013

Special issue: AICC2012: a new ice core chronology

Clim. Past, 9, 983–999, 2013

Research article 02 May 2013

Research article | 02 May 2013

Glacial–interglacial dynamics of Antarctic firn columns: comparison between simulations and ice core air-δ15N measurements

E. Capron1,2, A. Landais2, D. Buiron3, A. Cauquoin2, J. Chappellaz3, M. Debret3,4, J. Jouzel2, M. Leuenberger5, P. Martinerie3, V. Masson-Delmotte2, R. Mulvaney1, F. Parrenin3, and F. Prié2 E. Capron et al.
  • 1British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
  • 2Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace/Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, UMR8212, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ – 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  • 3UJF – Grenoble 1/CNRS, Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Géophysique de l'Environnement (LGGE), UMR5183, CNRS – 38041 Grenoble, France
  • 4Laboratoire Morphodynamique Continentale et Côtière (M2C), UMR 6143, Université de Caen Basse-Normandie et Université de Rouen, 14000 Caen/76821 Mont-Saint-Aignan, France
  • 5Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

Abstract. Correct estimation of the firn lock-in depth is essential for correctly linking gas and ice chronologies in ice core studies. Here, two approaches to constrain the firn depth evolution in Antarctica are presented over the last deglaciation: outputs of a firn densification model, and measurements of δ15N of N2 in air trapped in ice core, assuming that δ15N is only affected by gravitational fractionation in the firn column. Since the firn densification process is largely governed by surface temperature and accumulation rate, we have investigated four ice cores drilled in coastal (Berkner Island, BI, and James Ross Island, JRI) and semi-coastal (TALDICE and EPICA Dronning Maud Land, EDML) Antarctic regions. Combined with available ice core air-δ15N measurements from the EPICA Dome C (EDC) site, the studied regions encompass a large range of surface accumulation rates and temperature conditions.

Our δ15N profiles reveal a heterogeneous response of the firn structure to glacial–interglacial climatic changes. While firn densification simulations correctly predict TALDICE δ15N variations, they systematically fail to capture the large millennial-scale δ15N variations measured at BI and the δ15N glacial levels measured at JRI and EDML – a mismatch previously reported for central East Antarctic ice cores.

New constraints of the EDML gas–ice depth offset during the Laschamp event (~41 ka) and the last deglaciation do not favour the hypothesis of a large convective zone within the firn as the explanation of the glacial firn model–δ15N data mismatch for this site. While we could not conduct an in-depth study of the influence of impurities in snow for firnification from the existing datasets, our detailed comparison between the δ15N profiles and firn model simulations under different temperature and accumulation rate scenarios suggests that the role of accumulation rate may have been underestimated in the current description of firnification models.