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Collaborative Research: Investigating Geochemical Signatures in Greenland ice of a Possible Extraterrestrial Impact During the Younger Dryas Climate Event


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Computer science & e-learning

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The primary objective of this research is to obtain records of platinum, iridium, and osmium concentrations and osmium isotope ratios in the GISP2 Greenland ice core in order to investigate the hypothesis that there was a meteorite or comet impact at the onset of the Younger Dryas abrupt climate event 12,900 years ago. These analyses will be combined with high-resolution measurements of climate proxies obtained on the same samples. Osmium isotopes have the potential not only to conclusively confirm or refute the presence of an extraterrestrial impact, but also to provide information about the size and type of the impactor, should one be confirmed. High-resolution analyses of the atmospheric circulation proxies sodium, calcium, and iron represent a leap in ice core analysis resolution from one sample per three years to over 100 samples per year. The proposed research activities would contribute towards an understanding of what happened at the Younger Dryas, which will be of broad interest to geologists, geochemists, climatologists, archeologists, astronomers, and the general public. Following recent reports of a large anomaly in platinum concentration in the GISP2 ice core, four investigators propose a series of collaborative analyses at Dartmouth College and the University of Maine on GISP2 ice core samples of Younger Dryas age to: (1) evaluate the platinum spike at the Younger Dryas onset for potential contamination and contributions from volcanic and terrestrial sources, (2) measure osmium concentration and isotope composition to evaluate whether an impact occurred at the Younger Dryas onset and assess the nature of any impactor, and (3) assess the environmental change across this critical climate transition by measuring iron, sodium and calcium at storm-scale resolution using a new laser ablation mass-spectrometry system. The proposed research will provide students with opportunities for engaged learning in order to increase their interest and knowledge of how geochemical investigations provide insights to climate change affecting the Arctic. In particular, this study will constitute a major portion of a Ph.D. thesis and an undergraduate Senior Thesis. It will expose graduate and undergraduate students to cutting-edge geochemical and mass spectrometric techniques.