Prospects for reconstructing paleoenvironmental conditions from organic compounds in polar snow and ice16 Mar 2018
Polar ice cores provide information about past climate and environmental changes over periods ranging from a few years up to 800,000 years. The majority of chemical studies have focused on determining inorganic components, such as major ions and trace elements as well as on their isotopic fingerprint. In this paper, we review the different classes of organic compounds that might yield environmental information, discussing existing research and what is needed to improve knowledge. We also discuss the problems of sampling, analysis and interpretation of organic molecules in ice. This review highlights the great potential for organic compounds to be used as proxies for anthropogenic activities, past fire events from different types of biomass, terrestrial biogenic emissions and marine biological activity, along with the possibility of inferring past temperature fluctuations and even large-scale climate variability. In parallel, comprehensive research needs to be done to assess the atmospheric stability of these compounds, their ability to be transported long distances in the atmosphere, and their stability in the archive in order to better interpret their fluxes in ice cores. In addition, specific decontamination procedures, analytical methods with low detection limits (ng/L or lower), fast analysis time and low sample requests need to be developed in order to ensure a good time resolution in the archive.