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Keywords:

  • sulfur isotope anomaly;
  • volcanic eruption;
  • ice cores

[1] The reconstruction of past volcanism from glaciological archives is based on the measurement of sulfate concentrations in ice. This method does not allow a proper evaluation of the climatic impact of an eruption owing to the uncertainty in classifying an event between stratospheric or tropospheric. This work develops a new method, using anomalous sulfur isotope composition of volcanic sulfate in order to identify stratospheric eruptions over the last millennium. The advantages and limits of this new method are established with the examination of the 10 largest volcanic signals in ice cores from Dome C and South Pole, Antarctica. Of the 10, seven are identified as stratospheric eruptions. Among them, three have been known to be stratospheric (Tambora, Kuwae, the 1259 Unknown Event) and they exhibit anomalous sulfur isotope compositions. Three unknown events (circa 1277, 1230, 1170 A.D.) and the Serua eruption have been identified as stratospheric eruptions, which suggests for the first time that they could have had significant climatic impact. However, the Kuwae and the 1259 Unknown Event stratospheric eruptions exhibit different anomalous sulfur isotope compositions between South Pole and Dome C samples. Differences in sulfate deposition and preservation patterns between the two sites can help explain these discrepancies. This study shows that the presence of an anomalous sulfur isotope composition of volcanic sulfate in ice core indicates a stratospheric eruption, but the absence of such composition does not necessarily lead to the conclusion of a tropospheric process because of differences in the sulfate deposition on the ice sheet.