Natural and anthropogenic changes in atmospheric CO2 over the last 1000 years from air in Antarctic ice and firn


  • D. M. Etheridge,

  • L. P. Steele,

  • R. L. Langenfelds,

  • R. J. Francey,

  • J.-M. Barnola,

  • V. I. Morgan


A record of atmospheric CO2 mixing ratios from 1006 A.D. to 1978 A.D. has been produced by analysing the air enclosed in three ice cores from Law Dome, Antarctica. The enclosed air has unparalleled age resolution and extends into recent decades, because of the high rate of snow accumulation at the ice core sites. The CO2 data overlap with the record from direct atmospheric measurements for up to 20 years. The effects of diffusion in the firn on the CO2 mixing ratio and age of the ice core air were determined by analyzing air sampled from the surface down to the bubble close-off depth. The uncertainty of the ice core CO2 mixing ratios is 1.2 ppm (1 σ). Preindustrial CO2 mixing ratios were in the range 275–284 ppm, with the lower levels during 1550–1800 A.D., probably as a result of colder global climate. Natural CO2 variations of this magnitude make it inappropriate to refer to a single preindustrial CO2 level. Major CO2 growth occurred over the industrial period except during 1935–1945 A.D. when CO2 mixing ratios stabilized or decreased slightly, probably as a result of natural variations of the carbon cycle on a decadal timescale.