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The Isotopic Composition of Methane in Polar Ice Cores

H. Craig, C. C. Chou, J. A. Welhan, C. M. Stevens and A. Engelkemeir
Science
New Series, Vol. 242, No. 4885 (Dec. 16, 1988), pp. 1535-1539
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1702366
Page Count: 5
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The Isotopic Composition of Methane in Polar Ice Cores
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Abstract

Air bubbles in polar ice cores indicate that about 300 years ago the atmospheric mixing ratio of methane began to increase rapidly. Today the mixing ratio is about 1.7 parts per million by volume, and, having doubled once in the past several hundred years, it will double again in the next 60 years if current rates continue. Carbon isotope ratios in methane up to 350 years in age have been measured with as little as 25 kilograms of polar ice recovered in 4-meter-long ice-core segments. The data show that (i) in situ microbiology or chemistry has not altered the ice-core methane concentrations, and (ii) that the carbon-13 to carbon-12 ratio of atmospheric CH$_{4}$ in ice from 100 years and 300 years ago was about 2 per mil lower than at present. Atmospheric methane has a rich spectrum of isotopic sources: the ice-core data indicate that anthropogenic burning of the earth's biomass is the principal cause of the recent $^{13}$CH$_{4}$ enrichment, although other factors may also contribute.

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