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Controls on Variations in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Nitrous Oxide During the Last 10,000 years

The temperature of the earth is controlled, in part, by heat trapping gases that include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Despite their importance to climate, direct measurements of these gases in the atmosphere are limited to the last 50 years at best. Air trapped in ice cores extends those data back hundreds of millennia, and measurements of greenhouse gases in ice cores underpin much of our understanding of global chemical cycles relevant to modern climate change. Existing records vary in quality and detail. The proposed work fills gaps in our knowledge of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide over the last 10,000 years. New measurements from an ice core from the South Pole will be used to determine what role changes in ocean and land based processes played in controlling these gases, which decreased during the first 2,000 years of this time period, then gradually increased toward the present. The work will address a major controversy over whether early human activities could have impacted the atmosphere, and provide data to improve mathematical models of the land-ocean-atmosphere system that predict how future climate change will impact the composition of the atmosphere and climate. For nitrous oxide the work will improve on existing concentration records It will also develop measurement of the isotopomers of nitrous oxide and explore their utility for understanding aspects of the Holocene nitrous oxide budget. The primary goal is to determine if marine and/or terrestrial emissions of nitrous oxide change in response to changes in Holocene climate. A new Holocene isotopic record for carbon dioxide (stable carbon and oxygen isotopes), will improve the precision of existing records by a factor 5 and increase the temporal resolution. These data will be used to evaluate controversial hypotheses about why carbon dioxide concentrations changed in the Holocene and provide insight into millennial scale processes in the carbon cycle, which are not resolved by current isotopic data. A graduate student and post doc will receive advanced training during and the student and principle investigator will conduct outreach efforts targeted at local middle school students. The proposed work will also contribute to teaching efforts by the PI and to public lectures on climate and climate change. The results will be disseminated through publications, data archive, and the OSU Ice Core Lab web site. New analytical methods of wide utility will also be developed and documented.

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