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August 13, 2015

Asgard Range with Catspaw Glacier, Victoria Land, Antarctica

Asgard Range with Catspaw Glacier, Victoria Land, Antarctica.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas that doesn't receive as much notoriety as carbon dioxide or methane. Now, a new study confirms that atmospheric levels of N2O rose significantly as the Earth came out of the last ice age and addresses the cause.

Oregon State University (OSU) research on Taylor Glacier in the Dry Valleys, Antarctica, measured increases in atmospheric N2O concentrations about 16,000 to 10,000 years ago. Ice from the end of the last glacial period is outcropping at Taylor Glacier, providing easy access to large ice samples. The air bubbles enclosed in the ice allow for the reconstuction of the past atmospheric composition.

"The end of the last ice age represents a partial analog to modern warming and allows us to study the response of natural nitrous oxide emissions to changing environmental conditions," said Adrian Schilt, who did much of the work as a postdoctoral researcher at OSU. "This will allow us to better understand what might happen in the future."

The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (grants PLR 08-38936 and PLR 08-39031).

To learn more about this research, see the NSF News From the Field story No laughing matter: Nitrous oxide rose at end of last ice age. (Date of Image: November 2011)

Credit: Adrian Schilt, Oregon State University

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