Atmospheric volcanic loading derived from bipolar ice cores: Accounting for the spatial distribution of volcanic deposition

Chaochao Gao*, Luke Oman, Alan Robock, Georgiy L. Stenchikov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Previous studies have used small numbers of ice core records of past volcanism to represent hemispheric or global radiative forcing from volcanic stratospheric aerosols. With the largest-ever assembly of volcanic ice core records and state-of-the-art climate model simulations of volcanic deposition, we now have a unique opportunity to investigate the effects of spatial variations on sulfate deposition and on estimates of atmospheric loading. We have combined 44 ice core records, 25 from the Arctic and 19 from Antarctica, and Goddard Institute for Space Studies ModelE simulations to study the spatial distribution of volcanic sulfate aerosols in the polar ice sheets. We extracted volcanic deposition signals by applying a high-pass loess filter to the time series and examining peaks that exceed twice the 31-year running median absolute deviation. Our results suggest that the distribution of volcanic sulfate aerosol follows the general precipitation pattern in both regions, indicating the important role precipitation has played in affecting the deposition pattern of volcanic aerosols. We found a similar distribution pattern for sulfate aerosols from the 1783-1784 Laki and 1815 Tambora eruptions, as well as for the total β activity after the 1952-1954 low-latitude Northern Hemisphere and 1961-1962 high-latitude Northern Hemisphere atmospheric nuclear weapon tests. This confirms the previous assumption that the transport and deposition of nuclear bomb test debris resemble those of volcanic aerosols. We compare three techniques for estimating stratospheric aerosol loading from ice core data: radioactive deposition from nuclear bomb tests, Pinatubo sulfate deposition in eight Antarctic ice cores, and climate model simulations of volcanic sulfate transport and deposition following the 1783 Laki, 1815 Tambora, 1912 Katmai, and 1991 Pinatubo eruptions. By applying the above calibration factors to the 44 ice core records, we have estimated the stratospheric sulfate aerosol loadings for the largest volcanic eruptions during the last millennium. These loadings agree fairly well with estimates based on radiation, petrology, and model simulations. We also estimate the relative magnitude of sulfate deposition compared with the mean for Greenland and Antarctica for each ice core record, which provides a guideline to evaluate the stratospheric volcanic sulfate aerosol loading calculated from a single or a few ice core records.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD09109
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 16 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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