Paleo Home Research Data Education What's New Features Paleo Perspectives Site Map Mirror Sites National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina navigation bar
Paleo Slide Set: Polar Ice Cores
Signal of a 1479 A. D. eruption of Mt. St. Helens using data from Fiacco et al. (1993)
Volcanic eruptions evident in the ECM record direct scientists to particular core segments for further research. Researchers found a clear signal of a 1479 A. D. eruption of Mt. St. Helens (first identified in ash deposits in the Pacific Northwest and dated using tree rings) in both the particulate (dust) and sulfate (SO42-) records. As you can see from this photo of Mt. St. Helens' 1980 eruption, explosive volcanoes (as opposed to shield volcanoes like those in the Hawaiian Islands) hurtle vast quantities of ash high into the atmosphere. Just as ash from the 1980 eruption was deposited thousands of miles from the volcano, ash from the 1479 eruption was rapidly carried all the way to the Greenland Ice Sheet--probably in less than a week--leaving the particulate layer evident in the graph. Why doesn't the sulfate peak coincide with the particulate peak? In powerful eruptions like these, the volcano's plume of ash and gases may extend several miles into the sky, piercing the stratosphere. Sulfate aerosols in the plume are extremely light and take several months (and in the case of eruptions like Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, several years) to precipitate. GISP2 researchers estimate that the peak in sulfate deposition occurred 3-5 months after the eruption. That environmental events so far in the past can be identified with such clarity demonstrates why scientists go literally to the ends of the earth to extract ice cores.

Photo Credits:
Thomas Andrews
NOAA Paleoclimatology Program
Click to View Larger Image
Click on above image to enlarge.

Download a zip file
of a full resolution TIF image

Back to Slide Sets.....

Contact Us
Last Modified: 12 October 2001

Paleoclimatology Program Home Page