Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 5, 81–93, 2011

Special issue: Ice Caves

The Cryosphere, 5, 81–93, 2011

Research article 16 Feb 2011

Research article | 16 Feb 2011

First investigations of an ice core from Eisriesenwelt cave (Austria)

B. May1, C. Spötl2, D. Wagenbach1, Y. Dublyansky2, and J. Liebl3 B. May et al.
  • 1Institut für Umweltphysik, Universität Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 229, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2Institut für Geologie und Paläontologie, Lepold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck, Innrain 52, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
  • 3Vienna Environmental Research Accelerator (VERA), Fakultät für Physik – Isotopenforschung, Universität Wien, Währinger Straße 17, 1090 Wien, Austria

Abstract. Investigations into the genesis and dynamical properties of cave ice are essential for assessing the climate significance of these underground glaciers. We drilled an ice core through a 7.1 m-thick ice body filling a large cavern of the dynamic ice cave Eisenriesenwelt (Austria). In addition to visual core inspections, quasi-continuous measurements at 2 cm resolution comprised particulate matter, stable water isotope (δ18O, δD) and electrolytic conductivity profiles supplemented by specifically selected samples analyzed for tritium and radiocarbon. We found that recent ablation led to an almost complete loss of bomb-derived tritium removing any ice accumulated since, at least, the early fifties leaving the actual ice surface even below the natural tritium level. The small particulate organic masses rendered radiocarbon dating inconclusive, though a crude estimate gave a basal ice age in the order of several thousand years. The visual stratigraphy and all investigated parameters showed a clear dichotomy between the upper 2 m and the bottom 3 m of the core, which points to a substantial change in the ice formation process. Main features of the core comprise the changing appearance and composition of distinct cryocalcite layers, extremely low total ion content and a surprisingly high variability of the isotope signature. Co-isotope evaluation (δD versus δ18O) of the core in comparison with data from precipitation and karst spring water clearly indicate that ice formation is governed by (slow) freezing of dripping water.

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