Isotopic effects of nitrate photochemistry in snow: a field study at Dome C, Antarctica

Berhanu, T. A.; Savarino, J.; Erbland, J.; Vicars, W. C.; Preunkert, S.; Martins, J. F.; Johnson, M. S. (2015). Isotopic effects of nitrate photochemistry in snow: a field study at Dome C, Antarctica. Atmospheric chemistry and physics, 15(19), pp. 11243-11256. European Geosciences Union 10.5194/acp-15-11243-2015

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Stable isotope ratios of nitrate preserved in deep ice cores are expected to provide unique and valuable information regarding paleoatmospheric processes. However, due to the post-depositional loss of nitrate in snow, this information may be erased or significantly modified by physical or photochemical processes before preservation in ice. We investigated the role of solar UV photolysis in the post-depositional modification of nitrate mass and stable isotoperatios at Dome C, Antarctica, during the austral summer of
2011/2012. Two 30 cm snow pits were filled with homogenized drifted snow from the vicinity of the base. One of these pits was covered with a plexiglass plate that transmits solar UV radiation, while the other was covered with a different plexiglass plate having a low UV transmittance. Samples were then collected from each pit at a 2–5 cm depth resolution and a 10-day frequency. At the end of the season, acomparable nitrate mass loss was observed in both pits for the top-level samples (0–7 cm) attributed to mixing with the surrounding snow. After excluding samples impacted by the mixing process, we derived an average apparent nitrogen isotopic fractionation (15"
app/of role in driving the isotopic fractionation of nitrate in snow.We have estimated a purely photolytic nitrogen isotopic fractionation (15"photo) of -55.8 12.0 ‰ from the difference in the derived apparent isotopic ractionations of the two experimental fields, as both pits were exposed to similar physical processes except exposure to solar UV. This value is in close
agreement with the 15" photo value of -47.9 6.8 ‰ derived in a laboratory experiment simulated for Dome C conditions (Berhanu et al., 2014). We have also observed an insensitivity of 15" with depth in the snowpack under the given experimental setup. This is due to the uniform attenuation of
incoming solar UV by snow, as 15" is strongly dependent on the spectral distribution of the incoming light flux. Together with earlier work, the results presented here represent a strong body of evidence that solar UV photolysis is the most relevant post-depositional process modifying the stable isotope ratios of snow nitrate at low-accumulation sites, where many deep ice cores are drilled. Nevertheless, modeling the loss of nitrate in snow is still required before a robust interpretation of ice core records can be provided.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


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

UniBE Contributor:

Berhanu, Tesfaye


500 Science > 530 Physics




European Geosciences Union




Doris Rätz

Date Deposited:

04 Nov 2015 12:19

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:49

Publisher DOI:





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