The best high-resolution records of climate over the past few hundred millennia are derived from ice cores retrieved from Greenland and Antarctica1,2,3. The interpretation of these records relies on the assumption that the trace constituents used as proxies for past climate have undergone only modest post-depositional migration. Many of the constituents are soluble impurities found principally in unfrozen liquid that separates the grain boundaries in ice sheets. This phase behaviour, termed premelting, is characteristic of polycrystalline material4,5. Here we show that premelting influences compositional diffusion in a manner that causes the advection of impurity anomalies towards warmer regions while maintaining their spatial integrity. Notwithstanding chemical reactions that might fix certain species against this prevailing transport, we find that—under conditions that resemble those encountered in the Eemian interglacial ice of central Greenland (from about 125,000 to 115,000 years ago)—impurity fluctuations may be separated from ice of the same age by as much as 50 cm. This distance is comparable to the ice thickness of the contested sudden cooling events in Eemian ice from the GRIP core.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 51 print issues and online access
$199.00 per year
only $3.90 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Dansgaard, W. et al. Evidence for general instability of past climate from a 250-kyr ice-core record. Nature 364, 218–220 (1993).
Petit, J. R. et al. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399, 429–436 (1999).
Alley, R. B. Ice-core evidence of abrupt climate changes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 97, 1331–1334 (2000).
Dash, J. G., Fu, H. Y. & Wettlaufer, J. S. The premelting of ice and its environmental consequences. Rep. Prog. Phys. 58, 115–167 (1995).
Wettlaufer, J. S. Ice surfaces: Macroscopic effects of microscopic structure. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 357, 3403–3425 (1999).
Paterson, W. S. B. The Physics of Glaciers 3rd edn, 8–25 (Pergamon, Oxford, 1994).
Wolff, E. W. in Chemical Exchange Between the Atmosphere and Polar Ice (eds Wolff, E. W. & Bales, R. C.) 541–560 (NATO ASI Series I, Vol. 43, Springer, Berlin, 1996).
Ramseier, R. O. Self-diffusion of tritium in natural and synthetic ice monocrystals. J. Appl. Phys. 38, 2553–2556 (1967).
Nye, J. F. in Physics and Chemistry of Ice (eds Maeno, N. & Hondoh, T.) 200–205 (Hokkaido Univ. Press, 1992).
Nye, J. F. The geometry of water veins and nodes in polycrystalline ice. J. Glac. 35, 17–22 (1989).
Mader, H. M. Observations of the water-vein system in polycrystalline ice. J. Glac. 38, 333–347 (1992).
Nye, J. F. Diffusion of isotopes in the annual layers of ice sheets. J. Glac. 44, 467–468 (1998).
Johnsen, S. J. et al. in Ice Physics and the Natural Environment (eds Wettlaufer, J. S., Dash, J. G. & Untersteiner, N.) 89–107 (NATO ASI Series I, Vol. 56, Springer, Berlin, 1999).
Gundestrup, N. S., Dahl-Jensen, D., Johnsen, S. J. & Rossi, A. Bore-hole survey at dome GRIP—1991. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol. 21, 399–402 (1993).
Cuffey, K. M. et al. Large Arctic temperature-change at the Wisconsin–Holocene glacial transition. Science 270, 455–458 (1995).
Weast, R. C. (ed.) CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics 68th edn, D219–D269 (CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1987).
Mulvaney, R., Wolff, E. W. & Oates, K. Sulphuric acid at grain-boundaries in Antarctic ice. Nature 331, 247–249 (1988).
Fukazawa, H., Sugiyama, K., Mae, S. J., Narita, H. & Hondoh, T. Acid ions at triple junction of Antarctic ice observed by Raman scattering. Geophys. Res. Lett. 25, 2845–2848 (1998).
Wood, S. E. & Battino, R. Thermodynamics of Chemical Systems (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1990).
Gross, G. W., Chen-ho, W., Bryant, L. & McKee, C. Concentration dependent solute redistribution at the ice/water phase boundary. II. Experimental investigation. J. Chem. Phys. 62, 3085–3092 (1975).
Thorsteinsson, T., Kipfstuhl, J., Eicken, H., Johnsen, S. J. & Fuhrer, K. Crystal size variations in Eemian-age ice from the GRIP ice core, central Greenland. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 131, 381–394 (1995).
Steffensen, J. P., Clausen, H. B., Hammer, C. U., Legrand, M. & De Angelis, M. The chemical composition of cold events within the Eemian section of the Greenland Ice Core Project ice core from Summit. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 26747–26754 (1997).
Alley, R. B. et al. Comparison of deep ice cores. Nature 373, 393–394 (1995).
Zielinski, G. A. Use of paleo-records in determining variability within the volcanism-climate system. Quat. Sci. Rev. 19, 417–438 (2000).
Smith, C. S. Grains, phases and interfaces: An introduction to microstructure. Trans. Metall. Soc. AIME 175, 15–51 (1948).
Ohtomo, M. & Wakahama, G. Growth-rate of recrystallization in ice. J. Phys. Chem. 87, 4139–4142 (1983).
Dansgaard, W. & Johnsen, S. J. A flow model and a time scale for the ice core from Camp Century, Greenland. J. Glac. 8, 215–223 (1969).
Cuffey, K. M. & Clow, G. D. Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial transition. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 26383–26396 (1997).
Thorsteinsson, T., Kipfstuhl, J. & Miller, H. Textures and fabrics in the GRIP ice core. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 26583–26599 (1997).
De la Chapelle, S., Castelnau, O., Lipenkov, V. & Duval, P. Dynamic recrystallization and texture development in ice as revealed by the study of deep ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland. J. Geophys. Res. 103, 5091–5105 (1998).
We acknowledge R. Alley, J. G. Dash, D. P. Winebrenner, S. G. Warren, G. W. Gross, S. F. Johnsen, J. F. Nye, E. J. Steig, J. P. Steffensen and E. W. Wolff for discussions that have influenced this work. We also thank H. M. Mader for providing the photograph for Figure 1b. Support for this research has been provided by the US National Science Foundation.
About this article
Cite this article
Rempel, A., Waddington, E., Wettlaufer, J. et al. Possible displacement of the climate signal in ancient ice by premelting and anomalous diffusion. Nature 411, 568–571 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35079043
This article is cited by
Templated freezing assembly precisely regulates molecular assembly for free-standing centimeter-scale microtextured nanofilms
Science China Chemistry (2023)
Journal of Low Temperature Physics (2022)
Journal of Low Temperature Physics (2008)
Mathematical Geology (2005)