Letter | Published:

Helium: a new tracer in Antarctic oceanography

Nature volume 321, pages 233235 (15 May 1986) | Download Citation



The abyssal characteristics of the world oceans are strongly influenced by the northward propagation of Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW). An important source of AABW is Weddell Sea Bottom Water (WSBW), which is formed, in part, on the continental slope of the southern Weddell Sea1–3. The formation of WSBW on the continental slope is related to the floating ice shelves of the southern Weddell Sea (Filchner/Ronne Ice Shelves). Western Shelf Water (WSW) is modified under the ice shelves by cooling and admixture of melt water to form Ice Shelf Water (ISW), and a substantial part of the ISW flows over the sill that separates the Filchner Depression from the Weddell Sea and participates in the formation of WSBW4,5. The data reported here demonstrate that the water/ice interaction leads to a strong 4He-supersaturation of the ISW due to dissolution of air entrapped in the ice-shelf melt water. The 4He-supersaturation of the ISW can be used as a tracer of this water mass and also influences the 4He balance of the WSBW.

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  1. Institut für Umweltphysik der Universität Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 366, 6900 Heidelberg, FRG

    • Peter Schlosser


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