Skip to main content Accessibility help

Differentiating bubble-free layers from melt layers in ice cores using noble gases

  • Anais J. Orsi (a1) (a2), Kenji Kawamura (a3) (a4) (a5), John M. Fegyveresi (a6), Melissa A. Headly (a1), Richard B. Alley (a6) and Jeffrey P. Severinghaus (a1)...


Melt layers are clear indicators of extreme summer warmth on polar ice caps. The visual identification of refrozen meltwater as clear bubble-free layers cannot be used to study some past warm periods, because, in deeper ice, bubbles are lost to clathrate formation. We present here a reliable method to detect melt events, based on the analysis of Kr/Ar and Xe/Ar ratios in ice cores, and apply it to the detection of melt in clathrate ice from the Eemian at NEEM, Greenland. Additionally, melt layers in ice cores can compromise the integrity of the gas record by dissolving soluble gases, or by altering gas transport in the firn, which affects the gas chronology. We find that the easily visible 1 mm thick bubble-free layers in the WAIS Divide ice core do not contain sufficient melt to alter the gas composition in the core, and do not cause artifacts or discontinuities in the gas chronology. The presence of these layers during winter, and the absence of anomalies in soluble gases, suggests that these layers can be formed by processes other than refreezing of meltwater. Consequently, the absence of bubbles in thin crusts is not in itself proof of a melt event.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Differentiating bubble-free layers from melt layers in ice cores using noble gases
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Differentiating bubble-free layers from melt layers in ice cores using noble gases
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Differentiating bubble-free layers from melt layers in ice cores using noble gases
      Available formats


Corresponding author

Anais J. Orsi <>


Hide All
Ahn, J, Headly, M, Wahlen, M, Brook, EJ, Mayewski, PA and Taylor, KC (2008) CO2 diffusion in polar ice: observations from naturally formed CO2 spikes in the Siple Dome (Antarctica) ice core. J. Glaciol., 54(187), 685695 (doi: 10.3189/002214308786570764)
Ahn, J, Brook, EJ and Howell, K (2009) A high-precision method for measurement of paleoatmospheric CO2 in small polar ice samples. J. Glaciol., 55(191), 499506 (doi: 10.3189/002214309788816731)
Ahn, J and 7 others (2012) Atmospheric CO2 over the last 1000 years: a high-resolution record from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core. Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 26(2), GB2027 (doi: 10.1029/2011GB004247)
Albert, MR and Perron, F (2000) Ice layer and surface crust permeability in a seasonal snowpack. Hydrol. Process., 14(18), 32073214 (doi: 10.1002/1099-1085(20001230) 14:183.0.CO;2-C)
Albert, MR and Shultz, E (2002) Snow and firn properties and air–snow transport processes at Summit, Greenland. Atmos. Environ., 36, 27892797 (doi: 10.1016/S1352-2310(02)00119-X)
Albert, M, Shuman, C, Courville, Z, Bauer, R, Fahnestock, M and Scambos, T (2004) Extreme firn metamorphism: impact of decades of vapor transport on near-surface firn at a low-accumulation glazed site on the East Antarctic plateau. Ann. Glaciol., 39(1), 7378 (doi: 10.3189/172756404781814041)
Alley, RB (1988) Concerning the deposition and diagenesis of strata in polar firn. J. Glaciol., 34(118), 283290
Alley, RB and Anandakrishnan, S (1995) Variations in melt-layer frequency in the GISP2 ice core: implications for Holocene summer temperatures in central Greenland. Ann. Glaciol., 21, 6770
Axford, Y, Briner, JP, Francis, DR, Miller, GH, Walker, IR and Wolfe, AP (2011) Chironomids record terrestrial temperature changes throughout Arctic interglacials of the past 200,000 yr. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull., 123(7–8), 12751287 (doi: 10.1130/B30329.1)
Battle, MO and 8 others (2011) Controls on the movement and composition of firn air at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11(21), 11 00711 021 (doi: 10.5194/acp-11-11007-2011)
Bender, ML, Sowers, T and Lipenkov, V (1995) On the concentrations of O2, N2, and Ar in trapped gases from ice cores. J. Geophys. Res., 100(D9), 18 65118 660 (doi: 10.1029/94JD02212)
Box, JE, Fettweis, X, Stroeve, JC, Tedesco, M, Hall, DK and Steffen, K (2012) Greenland ice sheet albedo feedback: thermodynamics and atmospheric drivers. Cryosphere, 6(4), 821839 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6-821-2012)
Buizert, C and 9 others (2014) The WAIS-Divide deep ice core WD2014 chronology – Part 2: Methane synchronization (68–31 ka BP) and the gas age–ice age difference. Climate Past Discuss., 10(4), 35373584
Cole, JJ, Bade, DL, Bastviken, D, Pace, ML and Van de Bogert, M (2010) Multiple approaches to estimating air-water gas exchange in small lakes. Limnol. Oceanogr., 8, 285293 (doi: 10.4319/lom.2010.8.285)
Craig, H and Wiens, RC (1996) Gravitational enrichment of 84Kr/36 Ar ratios in polar ice caps: a measure of firn thickness and accumulation temperature. Science, 271(5256), 17081710 (doi: 10.1126/science.271.5256.1708)
Craig, H, Horibe, Y and Sowers, T (1988) Gravitational separation of gases and isotopes in polar ice caps. Science, 242(4886), 16751678
Dahl-Jensen, D and Johnsen, SJ (1986) Palaeotemperatures still exist in the Greenland ice sheet. Nature, 320(6059), 250252 (doi: 10.1038/320250a0)
Das, S and Alley, RB (2005) Characterization and formation of melt layers in polar snow: observations and experiments from West Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 51(173), 307313 (doi: 10.3189/ 172756505781829395)
Das, S and Alley, RB (2008) Rise in frequency of surface melting at Siple Dome through the Holocene: evidence for increasing marine influence on the climate of West Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res., 113(D2), D02112 (doi: 10.1029/ 2007JD008790)
Fegyveresi, JM (2014) Physical properties of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide deep ice core: development, evolution and interpretation. (PhD thesis, The Pennsylvania State University)
Fitzpatrick, JJ and 9 others (2014) Physical properties of the WAIS Divide ice core. J. Glaciol., 60(224), 11811198 (doi: 10.3189/2014JoG14J100)
Forster, RR and 12 others (2014) Extensive liquid meltwater storage in firn within the Greenland ice sheet. Nature Geosci., 7(2), 9598 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo2043)
Francis, DR, Wolfe, AP, Walker, IR and Miller, GF (2006) Interglacial and Holocene temperature reconstructions based on midge remains in sediments of two lakes from Baffin Island, Nunavut, Arctic Canada. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol., 236, 107124 (doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2006.01.005)
Fujii, Y and Kusunoki, K (1982) The role of sublimation and condensation in the formation of ice sheet surface at Mizuho Station, Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res., 87(C6), 42934300 (doi: 10.1029/JC087iC06p04293)
Hall, DK, Comiso, JC, DiGirolamo, NE, Shuman, CA, Box, JE and Koenig, LS (2013) Variability in the surface temperature and melt extent of the Greenland ice sheet from MODIS. Geophys. Res. Lett., 40(10), 21142120 (doi: 10.1002/grl.50240)
Hamme, RC and Emerson, SR (2004) The solubility of neon, nitrogen and argon in distilled water and seawater. Deep Sea Res. I, 51(11), 15171528 (doi: 10.1016/j.dsr.2004.06.009)
Harper, J, Humphrey, N, Pfeffer, WT, Brown, J and Fettweis, X (2012) Greenland ice-sheet contribution to sea-level rise buffered by meltwater storage in firn. Nature, 491(7423), 240243 (doi: 10.1038/nature11566)
Headly, MA and Severinghaus, JP (2007) A method to measure Kr/N2 ratios in air bubbles trapped in ice cores, and its application in reconstructing past mean ocean temperature. J. Geophys. Res., 112(D19), D19105 (doi: 10.1029/2006JD008317)
Herron, MM, Herron, SL and Langway, CC Jr (1981) Climatic signal of ice melt features in Southern Greenland. Nature, 293(5831), 389391 (doi: 10.1038/293389a0)
Jähne, B, Heinz, G and Dietrich, W (1987) Measurement of the diffusion coefficients of sparingly soluble gases in water. J. Geophys. Res., 92(C10), 10 76710 776 (10.1029/JC092iC10p10767)
Kameda, T, Narita, H, Shoji, H, Nishio, F, Fujii, Y and Wanatabe, O (1995) Melt features in ice cores from Site J, southern Greenland: some implications for summer climate since AD 1550. Ann. Glaciol., 21, 5158
Keegan, K, Albert, MR and Baker, I (2014) The impact of ice layers on gas transport through firn at the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) site, Greenland. Cryosphere, 8(5), 18011806 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-1801-2014)
Langway, CC Jr and Shoji, H (1990) Past temperature record from the analysis of melt features in the Dye 3, Greenland, Ice Core. Ann. Glaciol., 14, 343344
Lunt, DJ and 9 others (2012) A multi model assessment of last interglacial temperatures. Climate Past, 8, 36573691 (doi: 10.5194/cp-9-699-2013)
Malone, JL, Castro, M, Hall, CM, Doran, PT, Kenig, F and McKay, CP (2010) New insights into the origin and evolution of Lake Vida, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica – a noble gas study in ice and brines. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 289(1), 112122 (doi: 10.1016/j. epsl.2009.10.034)
Marcott, SA and 9 others (2014) Centennial-scale changes in the global carbon cycle during the last deglaciation. Nature, 514(7524), 616619 (doi: 10.1038/nature13799)
Masson-Delmotte, V and 18 others (2011). A comparison of the present and last interglacial periods in six Antarctic ice cores. Climate Past, 7(2), 397423 (doi: 10.5194/cp-7-397-2011)
McGrath, D, Colgan, W, Bayou, N, Muto, A and Steffen, K (2013) Recent warming at Summit, Greenland: global context and implications. Geophys. Res. Lett., 40(10), 20912096 (doi: 10.1002/grl.50456)
Miller, SL (1969) Clathrate hydrates of air in Antarctic ice. Science, 165(3892), 489490 (doi: 10.1126/science.165.3892.489)
Morris, RM, Mair, DWF, Nienow, PW, Bell, C, Burgess, DO and Wright, AP (2014) Field-calibrated model of melt, refreezing, and runoff for polar ice caps: application to Devon Ice Cap. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (doi: 10.1002/2014JF003100)
NEEM community members ( 2013) Eemian interglacial reconstructed from a Greenland folded ice core. Nature, 493(7433), 489494 (doi: 10.1038/nature11789)
Nghiem, SV and 8 others (2012) The extreme melt across the Greenland ice sheet in 2012. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(20), L20502 (doi: 10.1029/2012GL053611)
Nicholson, D, Emerson, S, Caillon, N, Jouzel, J and Hamme, RC (2010) Constraining ventilation during deepwater formation using deep ocean measurements of the dissolved gas ratios40 Ar/36 Ar, N2/ Ar, and Kr/Ar. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 115(C11), C11015 (doi: 10.1029/2010JC006152)
Orsi, AJ (2013) Temperature reconstruction at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide, for the last millennium, from the combination of borehole temperature and inert gas isotope measurements. (PhD thesis, University of California, San Diego)
Otto-Bliesner, BL (2006) Simulating arctic climate warmth and icefield retreat in the last interglaciation. Science, 311(5768), 17511753 (doi: 10.1126/science.1120808)
Pfeffer, WT and Humphrey, NF (1998) Formation of ice layers by infiltration and refreezing of meltwater. Ann. Glaciol., 26, 8391
Pfeffer, WT, Illangasekare, TH and Meier, MF (1990) Analysis and modeling of meltwater refreezing in dry snow. J. Glaciol, 36(123), 238246
Pfeffer, WT, Meier, MF and Illangasekare, TH (1991) Retention of Greenland runoff by refreezing: implications for projected future sea level change. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans (1978–2012), 96(C12), 22 11722 124 (doi: 10.1029/91JC02502)
Severinghaus, JP and Battle, MO (2006) Fractionation of gases in polar ice during bubble close-off: new constraints from firn air Ne, Kr and Xe observations. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 244(1–2), 474500 (doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2006.01.032)
Severinghaus, JP, Grachev, A, Luz, B and Caillon, AN (2003) A method for precise measurement of argon 40/36 and krypton/argon ratios in trapped air in polar ice with applications to past firn thickness and abrupt climate change in Greenland and at Siple Dome, Antarctica. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 67, 325343 (doi: 10.1016/S0016-7037(02)00965-1)
Tedesco, M, Serreze, M and Fettweis, X (2008) Diagnosing the extreme surface melt event over southwestern Greenland in 2007. Cryosphere, 2(2), 159166 (doi: 10.5194/tc-2-159-2008)
Tedesco, M and 7 others (2011) The role of albedo and accumulation in the 2010 melting record in Greenland. Envir. Res. Lett., 6(1), 014005 (doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/6/1/014005)
Top, Z, Martin, S and Becker, P (1988) A laboratory study of dissolved noble gas anomaly due to ice formation. Geophys. Res. Lett., 15(8), 796799 (doi: 10.1029/GL015i008p00796)
WAIS Divide Project Members ( 2013) Onset of deglacial warming in West Antarctica driven by local orbital forcing. Nature, 500(7463), 440444 (doi: 10.1016/0011-7471(70)90037-9)
Weiss, RF (1970) The solubility of nitrogen, oxygen, and argon in water and seawater. Deep Sea Res., 17, 721735 (doi: 10.1021/ je60076a014)
Weiss, RF and Kyser, TK (1978) Solubility of krypton in water and seawater. J. Chem Eng. Data, 23(1), 6972
Wong, GJ, Hawley, RL, Lutz, ER and Osterberg, EC (2013) Trace-element and physical response to melt percolation in Summit (Greenland) snow. Ann. Glaciol., 54(63), 5262 (doi: 10.3189/ 2013AoG63A602)
Wood, D and Caputi, R (1966) Solubilities of Kr and Xe in fresh and seawater. (Tech. Rep. USNRDL-TR-988) US Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, San Francisco, CA
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed