Solar Physics

, Volume 127, Issue 2, pp 333–346 | Cite as

Evidence of individual solar proton events in Antarctic snow

  • Gisela A. M. Dreschhoff
  • Edward J. Zeller


The high-resolution nitrate analyses of a snow sequence in Antarctica reveals clear evidence that the snow contains a chemical record of ionization from charged particles incident upon the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The Antarctic continent acts as a cold trap that effectively freezes out this signal and retains it in the stratigraphy of the ice shelves and the continental ice sheet. The signal that we measure results from the ionization of nitrogen and oxygen, the two primary constituents of the Earth's atmosphere, which subsequently react to form oxides of nitrogen. A large portion of the nitrogen oxides produced are ultimately oxidized to nitric acid and incorporated in snow crystals together with nitrates from tropospheric sources that also contribute to the general background. The nitrate concentration in a firn core was measured in Antarctica by ultraviolet spectrophotometry under tightly controlled experimental procedures. Based on uninterrupted, high-resolution sampling, variations in nitrate concentration were found to average about 53% (one standard deviation) of the mean concentration for the entire core. Short pulses of high nitrate concentration were found to show a variance of up to 11 standard deviations above the mean. At the series mean, the precision of analysis is better than 2%.

The firn core was drilled by hand to a depth of 21.7 m corresponding to 62 years and including more than 5 solar cycles. The time series that resulted from a total of 1393 individual analyses shows a statistically significant modulation of the background signal that is clearly tracable to solar activity. Several anomalously large concentration peaks were observed that have been dated and found to correlate with the major solar proton events of August 1972, July 1946, and the white-light flare of July 1928.


Flare Nitrate Concentration Nitrogen Oxide Ultraviolet Spectrophotometry High Nitrate Concentration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gisela A. M. Dreschhoff
    • 1
  • Edward J. Zeller
    • 1
  1. 1.Space Technology Center, University of KansasLawrenceU.S.A.

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