Influence of sublimation on stable isotope records recovered from high-altitude glaciers in the tropical Andes

Stichler, W.; Schotterer, U.; Fröhlich, K.; Ginot, P.; Kull, C.; Gäggeler, H.; Pouyaud, B. (2001). Influence of sublimation on stable isotope records recovered from high-altitude glaciers in the tropical Andes. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 106(D19), pp. 22613-22620. American Geophysical Union 10.1029/2001JD900179

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Sublimation dominates the ablation process on cold, high-altitude glaciers in the tropical Andes. Transport of water vapor through the firn and exchange with ambient moisture alter the stable isotope composition of the surface layers. A sublimation experiment carried out during an ice core drilling campaign on Cerro Tapado (5536 m above sea level, 30°08′S, 69°55′W) revealed a strong enrichment in the 2H and 18O content in the surface layer. Concerning the deuterium excess, a decrease occurred at daytime, while during the night, the values remained comparatively constant. At daytime the sublimation is enhanced due to the higher moisture deficit of the ambient air accompanied by relatively high firn surface temperatures. Low surface temperatures at night cause condensation of water vapor in the firn pores near the surface and thus inhibit penetration of the isotopically enriched surface front into deeper firn layers. Measuring an isotope profile obtained through detailed sampling between the surface and 38 cm depth proved this mechanism. The observed modification of the isotopic composition at the surface was quantitatively described by a model, which also reproduced the mass loss measured with sublimation pans and calculated from relevant meteorological data. The results of this study suggest that the influence of sublimation on the preserved isotope record of ice cores under comparable environmental conditions is rather limited. In any case, simultaneous measurements of δ2H and δ18O help to identify layers in an ice core which might be effected by sublimation. However, since the mass loss due to sublimation was of the order of 2–4 mm per day during the experiment, important palaeoinformation from an isotope record could be eliminated during extended dry periods.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics

UniBE Contributor:

Schotterer, Ulrich Hermann


500 Science > 530 Physics




American Geophysical Union




BORIS Import 2

Date Deposited:

22 Sep 2021 11:58

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:52

Publisher DOI:





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