EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Mid to Late Holocene East Antarctic ice-core tephrochronology: Implications for reconstructing volcanic eruptions and their impacts over the last 5,500 years

Peter Abbott1, Joseph McConnell2, Nathan Chellman2, Sepp Kipfstuhl3, Maria Hörhold3, Johannes Freitag3, Gill Plunkett4, and Michael Sigl1
Peter Abbott et al.
  • 1Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Desert Research Institute, Nevada System of Higher Education, Reno, Nevada 89512, USA
  • 3Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany
  • 4Archealogy and Palaeoecology, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, BT7 1NN, UK

Ice cores are powerful archives for reconstructing volcanism and developing tephrochronological frameworks, as they can preserve both the soluble, i.e. aerosols, and non-soluble, i.e. tephra, products of volcanic eruptions. In addition, and particularly over Holocene timescales, high-precision annually resolved chronologies have been developed for these records and permit ages to be assigned to eruptions. The identification of tephra in ice cores in direct association with chemical indicators of volcanism, such as sulphate, can significantly enhance volcanic reconstructions as tephra can be linked to an eruptive source. Such source attributions can provide information on the location of the eruptions, the magnitude of aerosol emissions at the source and help assess any climatic impact. In addition, they can aid the reconstruction of volcanic histories and the assessment of future hazard risk.  


The tephra record for the interior of East Antarctica over the last 5,500 years is potentially underexploited as a prior focus on visible horizons and exploring the deep ice cores that cover longer time spans has resulted in only one horizon, dated to ~3.5 ka BP, being identified in these records. Here we discuss ongoing tephrochronological investigations of two ice-cores, B53 and B54, retrieved from the interior of the East Antarctic Plateau. High-resolution, sub-annual chemical records have been measured from both cores using a continuous melter system. These data were used to develop a sampling strategy to identify cryptotephra horizons with ice-core sections containing coeval peaks in fine insoluble particles and non-sea-salt sulphur targeted and >50 events were directly sampled. This approach recently has been used to identify cryptotephras in both Greenland and Antarctic ice cores. When glass tephra shards were identified thin sections were created and individual glass shards were geochemically analysed using electron-probe microanalysis to help identify their volcanic source and permit correlations between records.


Thus far, more than 10 cryptotephra horizons have been identified and linked to regional sources such as the South Sandwich and South Shetland Islands and the ~3.5 ka BP event has been traced in both cores as a visible layer. More detailed investigations are being conducted on samples from specific volcanic signals of interest that may derive from eruptions of ultra-distal volcanic sources. Such eruptions could have deposited very small glass tephra shards over Antarctica, which poses significant analytical challenges and necessitates the use of innovative approaches for tephra identification and geochemical analysis.

How to cite: Abbott, P., McConnell, J., Chellman, N., Kipfstuhl, S., Hörhold, M., Freitag, J., Plunkett, G., and Sigl, M.: Mid to Late Holocene East Antarctic ice-core tephrochronology: Implications for reconstructing volcanic eruptions and their impacts over the last 5,500 years, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-7471,, 2022.