07 Nov 2022
 | 07 Nov 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Consistent histories of anthropogenic Western European air pollution preserved in different Alpine ice cores

Anja Eichler, Michel Legrand, Theo M. Jenk, Susanne Preunkert, Camilla Andersson, Sabine Eckhardt, Magnuz Engardt, Andreas Plach, and Margit Schwikowski

Abstract. Individual high-Alpine ice cores have been proven to contain a well preserved history of past anthropogenic air pollution in Western Europe. The question, how representative one ice core is with respect to the reconstruction of atmospheric composition in the source region, has not been addressed so far. Here, we present the first study systematically comparing long-term ice-core records (AD 1750–2015) of various anthropogenic compounds, such as major inorganic aerosol constituents (NH4+, NO3-, SO42-), black carbon (BC), and trace species (Cd, F-, Pb). Several ice cores from four high-Alpine sites located in the European Alps analysed by different laboratories for this set of air pollutants were used. All seven investigated anthropogenic compounds feature an excellent agreement in the species-dependent long-term concentration trends at the different sites. This is related to common source regions of air pollution impacting the less than 100 km distant four sites including Western European countries surrounding the Alps, i.e. Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Spain. For individual compounds, the Alpine ice-core composites developed in this study allowed us to precisely time the onset of pollution caused by industrialization in Western Europe. Extensive emissions from coal combustion and agriculture lead to an exceeding of pre-industrial (AD 1750–1850) concentration levels already at the end of the 19th century for BC, Pb, exSO42- (non-dust, non-sea salt SO42-) and NH4+, respectively. However, Cd, F-, and NO3- concentrations started surpassing pre-industrial values only in the 20th century, predominantly due to pollution from zinc and aluminium smelters and traffic. The observed maxima of BC, Cd, F-, Pb, and exSO42- concentrations in the 20th century and a significant decline afterwards, clearly reveal the efficiency of air pollution control measures such as desulphurisation of coal, the introduction of filters and scrubbers in power plants and metal smelters, and the ban of leaded gasoline improving the air quality in Western Europe. In contrast, the composite records of NO3- and NH4+ show levels in the beginning of the 21th century, which are unprecedented in the context of the past 250 years, indicating that the introduced abatement measures to reduce these pollutants were insufficient to have a major effect at high altitudes in Western Europe. Only four ice-core composite records (BC, F-, Pb, exSO42-) of the seven investigated pollutants correspond well with modelled trends. Our results demonstrate that individual ice-core records from different sites in the European Alps provide a spatial representative signal of anthropogenic pollution from Western European countries and are essential to constrain emission or deposition data of air pollutants in this region.

Anja Eichler et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on tc-2022-208', Michael Sigl, 18 Nov 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on CC1', Anja Eichler, 30 Jan 2023
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2022-208', Anonymous Referee #1, 06 Dec 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC1', Anja Eichler, 30 Jan 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2022-208', Anonymous Referee #2, 06 Dec 2022
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC2', Anja Eichler, 30 Jan 2023

Anja Eichler et al.

Anja Eichler et al.


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Short summary
We investigate, how a 250-years history of the emission of air pollutants (major inorganic aerosol constituents, black carbon, and trace species) is preserved in different ice cores from various sites in the European Alps. Our results demonstrate that the individual ice-core records provide a spatial representative signal of anthropogenic pollution from Western European countries and are essential to constrain model data of air pollutants in this region.