Sea-ice reconstructions from bromine and iodine in ice cores

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review


  • Paul Vallelonga
  • Niccolo Maffezzoli
  • Alfonso Saiz-Lopez
  • Federico Scoto
  • Kjær, Helle Astrid
  • Andrea Spolaor

As the intricacies of paleoclimate dynamics are explored, it is becoming understood that sea-ice variability can instigate, or contribute to, climate change instabilities commonly described as "tipping points". Compared to ice sheets and circulating ocean currents, sea-ice is ephemeral and continentalscale changes to sea ice cover occur seasonally. Sea-ice greatly influences polar albedo, atmosphere-ocean gas exchange and vertical mixing of polar ocean masses. Major changes in sea ice distribution and thickness have been invoked as drivers of deglaciations as well as stadial climate variability described in Greenland climate records as "Dansgaard-Oeschger" cycles and described in Antarctic climate records as "Antarctic Isotopic Maxima".

The role of halogens in polar atmospheric chemistry has been studied intensively over the past few decades. This research has been driven by the role of bromine, primarily as gas-phase bromine monoxide (BrO), which exerts a key control on polar tropospheric ozone concentrations. Initial findings led to the discovery of boundary-layer self-catalyzing heterogeneous bromine reactions fed by sunlight and ozone, known as bromine explosions. First-year sea-ice and blowing snow have been identified as key components for this heterogeneous bromine recycling in the polar boundary layer. This understanding of polar halogen chemistry - supported by an expanding body of observations and modeling - has formed the basis for investigating quantitative links between halogen concentrations in the polar atmospheric boundary layer and sea-ice presence and/or extent.

Despite the clear importance of sea-ice in paleoclimate research, the ice core community lacks a conservative and quantitative proxy for sea-ice extent. The most commonly applied proxy, methanesulphonic acid (MSA), is volatile and has not been demonstrated reliably for ice core records extending beyond the last few centuries. Sodium has also been applied to reconstruct sea-ice extent in a semi-quantitative manner although the effects of meteorological transport noise are significant. Contrary to a priori expectations, the halogens bromine and iodine appear to be stable in polar snow and ice over millennial timescales, addressing the temporal limitations of MSA records. Unfortunately, transport and meteorological variability influence sodium deposition as well as the deposition of halogens and the many other ionic impurities found in ice cores. The atmospheric chemistry of halogens is more complex than those of sodium or MSA due to the mixed-phase (gas and aerosol) nature of halogen photochemistry. Thus the application of halogen records in ice cores to sea-ice reconstruction overcomes some challenges posed by existing proxies, but also opens new challenges specific to halogens. Challenges common to all sea-ice proxies include the deconvolution of changes in emission source locations and changes in transport efficacy, particularly those occurring during climate transitions combining changes in sea-ice and atmospheric circulation, such as stadial/interstadial or glacial/interglacial climate variability.

In this review, we describe the rationale and available evidence for linking the halogens bromine and iodine found in polar snow and ice to sea-ice extent. Reported measurements of bromine and iodine in polar snow and ice samples are critically discussed. We also consider aspects of halogen transport and retention in polar snow and ice that are still poorly understood. Overall, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the application of bromine to sea-ice reconstructions, and the use of iodine to reconstruct marine biological activity mediated in part by sea-ice extent. These halogens complement existing sea-ice proxies but most crucially, offer the capacity to greatly extend the temporal and spatial coverage of ice core-based sea-ice reconstructions. We identify knowledge gaps existing in the current understanding of spatial and temporal variability of halogen distributions in the polar regions. We suggest areas where polar halogen chemistry can contribute to a better understanding of the halogen records recovered from ice cores. Finally, we propose future steps for establishing reliable and constructive sea-ice reconstructions based on bromine and iodine as observed in snow and ice cores. (C) 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107133
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Number of pages41
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

    Research areas

  • Halogen, Ice core, Bromine, Iodine, Sea-ice, Sea-ice extent, Sea-ice reconstruction, Antarctica, Southern ocean, Greenland, Svalbard, Severnaya Zemlya, Nordic seas, ATMOSPHERIC BOUNDARY-LAYER, ABRUPT CLIMATE-CHANGE, SOUTHERN-OCEAN, LAW DOME, METHANESULFONIC-ACID, SNOW ACCUMULATION, TALOS DOME, AEROSOL COMPOSITION, VOLCANIC-ERUPTIONS, HALOGEN DEPOSITION

ID: 280058048