Articles | Volume 9, issue 8
Research article
10 Aug 2016
Research article |  | 10 Aug 2016

A new set-up for simultaneous high-precision measurements of CO2, δ13C-CO2 and δ18O-CO2 on small ice core samples

Theo Manuel Jenk, Mauro Rubino, David Etheridge, Viorela Gabriela Ciobanu, and Thomas Blunier

Abstract. Palaeoatmospheric records of carbon dioxide and its stable carbon isotope composition (δ13C) obtained from polar ice cores provide important constraints on the natural variability of the carbon cycle. However, the measurements are both analytically challenging and time-consuming; thus only data exist from a limited number of sampling sites and time periods. Additional analytical resources with high analytical precision and throughput are thus desirable to extend the existing datasets. Moreover, consistent measurements derived by independent laboratories and a variety of analytical systems help to further increase confidence in the global CO2 palaeo-reconstructions. Here, we describe our new set-up for simultaneous measurements of atmospheric CO2 mixing ratios and atmospheric δ13C and δ18O-CO2 in air extracted from ice core samples. The centrepiece of the system is a newly designed needle cracker for the mechanical release of air entrapped in ice core samples of 8–13 g operated at −45 °C. The small sample size allows for high resolution and replicate sampling schemes. In our method, CO2 is cryogenically and chromatographically separated from the bulk air and its isotopic composition subsequently determined by continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS). In combination with thermal conductivity measurement of the bulk air, the CO2 mixing ratio is calculated. The analytical precision determined from standard air sample measurements over ice is ±1.9 ppm for CO2 and ±0.09 ‰ for δ13C. In a laboratory intercomparison study with CSIRO (Aspendale, Australia), good agreement between CO2 and δ13C results is found for Law Dome ice core samples. Replicate analysis of these samples resulted in a pooled standard deviation of 2.0 ppm for CO2 and 0.11 ‰ for δ13C. These numbers are good, though they are rather conservative estimates of the overall analytical precision achieved for single ice sample measurements. Facilitated by the small sample requirement, replicate measurements are feasible, allowing the method precision to be improved potentially. Further, new analytical approaches are introduced for the accurate correction of the procedural blank and for a consistent detection of measurement outliers, which is based on δ18O-CO2 and the exchange of oxygen between CO2 and the surrounding ice (H2O).

Short summary
Atmospheric CO2 and δ13C-CO2 records from polar ice cores provide important constraints on the natural carbon cycle variability. Still, data exist only from a limited number of sampling sites and time periods due to demanding analytical challenges. Additional analytical state-of-the-art resources are desirable. This study describes such a new facility. Its analytical performance and new approaches for dealing with procedural blank contribution and analytical outliers are discussed in detail.