One anticipated component missing from an ice core drilled through a high-mountain, Alaskan ice field may force researchers to rethink the geologic history of that region.
Ohio State University scientists had expected to find a thick layer of volcanic tephra - evidence of a massive historic eruption - near the bottom of core they drilled between Mount Bona and Mount Churchill, both ancient volcanoes, in southeast Alaska’s St. Elias Mountain Range. That tephra layer would provide new evidence that Mount Churchill had been the source of an eruption that blanketed hundreds of thousands of square miles in the Pacific Northwest, creating a deposit known as the White River Ash.
The problem is that the ice core contains no ash layer. “Our drill site was so close to the crater of Mount Churchill that if it had erupted in 803 A.D., then ash would have been preserved somewhere in our record in the core,” explained Tracy Mashiotta, a research associate with the Byrd Polar Research Center. “We drilled all the way through the glacier to the bedrock below and didn’t find any ash.” “Without a visible ash layer in the core, we don’t believe that Mount Churchill could have been the source for that deposit.” explained Lonnie Thompson, professor of geological sciences and researcher with the Byrd Polar Research Center.
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