Articles | Volume 9, issue 6
Research article
04 Dec 2015
Research article |  | 04 Dec 2015

Investigation of a deep ice core from the Elbrus western plateau, the Caucasus, Russia

V. Mikhalenko, S. Sokratov, S. Kutuzov, P. Ginot, M. Legrand, S. Preunkert, I. Lavrentiev, A. Kozachek, A. Ekaykin, X. Faïn, S. Lim, U. Schotterer, V. Lipenkov, and P. Toropov

Abstract. A 182 m ice core was recovered from a borehole drilled into bedrock on the western plateau of Mt. Elbrus (43°20´53.9'' N, 42°25´36.0'' E; 5115 m a.s.l.) in the Caucasus, Russia, in 2009. This is the first ice core in the region that represents a paleoclimate record that is practically undisturbed by seasonal melting. Relatively high snow accumulation rates at the drilling site enabled the analysis of the intraseasonal variability in climate proxies. Borehole temperatures ranged from −17 °C at 10 m depth to −2.4 °C at 182 m. A detailed radio-echo sounding survey showed that the glacier thickness ranged from 45 m near the marginal zone of the plateau up to 255 m at the glacier center. The ice core has been analyzed for stable isotopes (δ18O and δD), major ions (K+, Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+, NH4+, SO42-, NO3-, Cl-, F-), succinic acid (HOOCCH2COOH), and tritium content. The mean annual net accumulation rate of 1455 mm w.e. for the last 140 years was estimated from distinct annual oscillations of δ18O, δD, succinic acid, and NH4+. Annual layer counting also helped date the ice core, agreeing with the absolute markers of the tritium 1963 bomb horizon located at the core depth of 50.7 m w.e. and the sulfate peak of the Katmai eruption (1912) at 87.7 m w.e. According to mathematical modeling results, the ice age at the maximum glacier depth is predicted to be ~ 660 years BP. The 2009 borehole is located downstream from this point, resulting in an estimated basal ice age of less than 350–400 years BP at the drilling site. The glaciological and initial chemical analyses from the Elbrus ice core help reconstruct the atmospheric history of the European region.

Short summary
For the first time an ice core unaffected by melting was recovered from the western Elbrus plateau in the Caucasus. The preserved chemical and isotopic data are considered a source of paleo-climate information for southern/eastern Europe. Considerable snow accumulation (about 1500mm w.e.) and high sampling resolution allowed seasonal variability to be obtained in climate signals, covering a time period of about 200 years. Ice flow models suggest that the basal ice age can be more than 600 years.