Researchers from the University of Maryland (UMD) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new and improved technique for the simultaneous measurement of sulfur isotopic ratios and concentrations of atmospheric sulfate using snow samples from Greenland and Kyrgyzstan.
Aerial view of the Greenland coast. Credit: NASA-JSC-ES&IA
Sulfur plays an important role in the Earths climate. Sulfate particles in the atmosphere scatter and absorb sunlight, provide "seeds" for cloud formation, and affect the reflectivity and radiance of clouds, and thus the temperatures at the Earths surface. Atmospheric sulfate comes from natural sources, including oceans and volcanoes, but a large fraction comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Researchers can distinguish between various natural and anthropogenic sources in snow by measuring sulfur isotopes--forms of the element with different numbers of neutrons.
To study how these particulates have changed over time, scientists dig holes in snow that provide an archive of atmospheric particles deposited on the Earths surface. The standard analysis technique, gas-source isotope ratio mass spectroscopy (GIRMS), requires relatively large samples--up to four kilograms (about 9 pounds) of snow and ice, but the cycling of sulfur in the atmosphere is dynamic and variable, so samples this large blur seasonal changes.
Michael Baum | EurekAlert!
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