Atmospheric nitrous oxide during the last 140,000 years - INSU - Institut national des sciences de l'Univers Access content directly
Journal Articles Earth and Planetary Science Letters Year : 2010

Atmospheric nitrous oxide during the last 140,000 years


Reconstructions of past atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases provide unique insight into the biogeochemical cycles and the past radiative forcing in the Earth's climate system. We present new measurements of atmospheric nitrous oxide along the ice cores of the North Greenland Ice Core Project and Talos Dome sites. Using records of several other ice cores, we are now able to establish the first complete composite nitrous oxide record reaching back to the beginning of the previous interglacial about 140,000 yr ago. On the basis of such composite ice core records, we further calculate the radiative forcing of the three most important greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide during more than a full glacial-interglacial cycle. Nitrous oxide varies in line with climate, reaching very low concentrations of about 200 parts per billion by volume during Marine Isotope Stages 4 and 2, and showing substantial responses to millennial time scale climate variations during the last glacial. A large part of these millennial time scale variations can be explained by parallel changes in the sources of methane and nitrous oxide. However, as revealed by high-resolution measurements covering the Dansgaard/Oeschger events 17 to 15, the evolution of these two greenhouse gases may be decoupled on the centennial time scale. Carbon dioxide and methane concentrations do not reach interglacial levels in the course of millennial time scale climate variations during the last glacial. In contrast, nitrous oxide often reaches interglacial concentrations in response to both, glacial terminations and Dansgaard/Oeschger events. This indicates, from a biogeochemical point of view, similar drivers in both temporal cases. While carbon dioxide and methane concentrations are more strongly controlled by climate changes in high latitudes, nitrous oxide emissions changes may mainly stem from the ocean and/or from soils located at low latitudes. Accordingly, we speculate that high latitudes could play the leading role to trigger glacial terminations.

Dates and versions

insu-00653759 , version 1 (20-12-2011)



A. Schilt, M. Baumgartner, J. Schwander, D. Buiron, E. Capron, et al.. Atmospheric nitrous oxide during the last 140,000 years. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2010, 300 (1-2), pp.33-43. ⟨10.1016/j.epsl.2010.09.027⟩. ⟨insu-00653759⟩
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