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Palaeo climate reconstruction from the highly continental Mongolian Altai

Applicant Schwikowski Margit
Number 119743
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Paul Scherrer Institut
Institution of higher education Paul Scherrer Institute - PSI
Main discipline Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Start/End 01.05.2009 - 30.04.2011
Approved amount 201'676.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology

Keywords (11)

Climate variability; Altai; Millennium; Ice cores; Mongolia; Ice core; Climate reconstruction; Mongolian Altai; Glacier; Palaeo climate; Stable isotopes

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
In order to place recent climate change in a longer term context the reconstruction of climatic variations on annual, interannual, and decadal time scales of the last 1000 years is a priority target in current climate research. In its recent report the IPCC recommends that in order to reduce uncertainty associated with present palaeoclimate estimates of Northern Hemispheric temperatures, further work is necessary to produce many more, especially early, palaeoclimate series with much wider geographical coverage. This project aims to reconstruct different climate parameters from a very continental site with low data coverage, the Altai mountain range in Central Asia. For this purpose, an ice core will be recovered from a high-mountain glacier in the Mongolian Altai, suitable for palaeo climate reconstruction. To achieve this goal as a first step, a reconnaissance study will be conducted in order to find the best glacier site. Ideally, a survey helicopter flight to two or three potential glacier sites will be performed. Ground Penetrating Radar will be applied to determine the ice thickness. Based on the results of the radar survey at the most promising sites, shallow firn cores will be collected. The firn cores will be analysed for chemical composition and stable isotope ratios. All parameters together will allow evaluating the quality of the preservation of the climate and atmospheric signals. A first estimation of the annual accumulation and the approximate age will be made. Based on these data the site for deep drilling will be selected and in a second step the deep ice core will be recovered.This project will be conducted in collaboration between the Analytical Chemistry Group of the Laboratory of Radiochemistry and Environmental Chemistry, Paul Scherrer Institut, the Glaciology Group of the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, the Institut for Water and Environmental Problems SB RAS, Barnaul, Russia, and the Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Methods used are field measurements and ice core chemical analysis in the laboratory. Existing instrumental climate data and other available palaeo data are collected, especially meteorological data from four climate stations operated in the Mongolian Altai for the last 60 years.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
134564 Palaeo climate reconstruction from Tsambagarav ice core, Mongolian Altai 01.05.2011 Project funding (Div. I-III)
181985 Reconstructing historic and modern anthropogenic FSU heavy metal pollution 01.04.2019 Project funding (Div. I-III)
134564 Palaeo climate reconstruction from Tsambagarav ice core, Mongolian Altai 01.05.2011 Project funding (Div. I-III)
110174 Rekonstruktion des Klimas und der atmosphärischen Zusammensetzung während der kleinen Eiszeit in Zentralasien anhand eines Eisbohrkernes vom Belukha-Gletscher (Sibirischer Altai) 01.02.2006 Marie Heim-Voegtlin grants
133817 Environmental Analysis and Dating with Radiocarbon using MICADAS 01.12.2010 R'EQUIP

Abstract

In order to place recent climate change in a longer term context the reconstruction of climatic variations on annual, interannual, and decadal time scales of the last 1000 years is a priority target in current climate research. In its recent report the IPCC recommends that in order to reduce uncertainty associated with present palaeoclimate estimates of Northern Hemispheric temperatures, further work is necessary to produce many more, especially early, palaeoclimate series with much wider geographical coverage. Various annually resolved reconstructions of northern hemispheric temperatures have been developed, but their uncertainty is still significant. There are for example far from sufficient data to make any meaningful estimates of global medieval warmth. This is on the one hand due to scarce data sets for the time period before 1600 AD. On the other hand, millennial proxy data sets are strongly biased towards tree ring chronologies and, in addition, regional coverage is poor. Furthermore, there is still a debate about the sun’s role in Earth’s temperature variations. A number of climate records respond to the variability in the solar cycle and it was suggested that models underestimate the solar contribution to recent climate change. However, the extent and geographical variations of the solar influence on timescales of millennia to decades is poorly known.We focus on climate studies at a very continental site with low data coverage. A temperature record was already recovered for the time period 1250-2000AD using an ice core from Belukha glacier in the Siberian Altai (49°48’N, 86°35’E). March-November temperatures derived from the ice core ?18O record show an exceptional high correlation with reconstructed solar activity over this long time period. The observed temperature increase of 3.2±1.7°C between the Maunder minimum and the end of the 20th century exceeds that of Northern Hemisphere reconstructions with typical 0.8-1°C. In order to obtain climate records for the medieval and earlier periods and to verify the sensitivity of the temperature response in this region to changes in sun activity, we propose to recover another ice core from a different glacier in the Altai mountain range. The Altai is especially suited for finding a glacier which records temperature, since it is the northern most mountain range in Central Asia, experiencing highest continentality and a negligible monsoonal influence. This is in contrast to many other ice core sites in Central Asia, located on the Tibetan Plateau, where delta18O is mainly controlled by precipitation amount. However, there are only very few glaciers in the Altai which might fulfill the requirements for ice core drilling, such as flat topography and sufficient altitude to prevent melt water influence. The most promising glaciers are located in the Mongolian Altai. Due to a sharp West-East gradient in precipitation, accumulation rates in the Mongolian Altai are significantly lower than at Belukha glacier although the distance is only 500 km. Assuming comparable glacier thickness a potential ice core record should cover more than 1000 years.This proposal seeks funding to obtain an ice core, suitable for paleo climate reconstruction, from the Mongolian Altai. To achieve this goal as a first step, a reconnaissance study will be conducted in order to find the best glacier site. Ideally, a survey helicopter flight to two or three potential glacier sites will be performed. Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) will be applied to determine the glacier bed and therefore the ice thickness as well as internal layers within the cold glacier. Based on the results of the radar survey at the most promising sites, shallow firn cores will be collected. The firn cores will be analysed for chemical composition and stable isotope ratios. All parameters together will allow evaluating the quality of the preservation of the climate and atmospheric signals. A first estimation of the annual accumulation and the approximate age will be made. The occurrence of melt features, another parameter for the ice archive quality, will be studied. Based on these data along with the ice thickness the site for deep drilling will be selected and in a second step the deep ice core will be recovered. Glaciers around the world are melting away due to global warming as well as changing precipitation patterns. In the Mongolian Altai Mountains a glacier area loss of 10-29% between the 1940s and 2000 for the different regions was observed. Thus, these glaciers with their archived paleoclimatic information, unattainable elsewhere, are at risk. The retrieval of ice cores from carefully selected sites is therefore an urgent task. This proposal builds on our experience in paleo atmospheric and climatic studies using ice cores from high-mountain glaciers in the Alps, the Altai, and the Andes.
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