NSF award to advance hyperspectral ice core imaging and analysis – A. Kurbatov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $249,851 grant to Andrei Kurbatov, associate professor at the Climate Change Institute and the School of Earth and Climate Sciences at the University of Maine, for developing new hyperspectral imaging techniques for analyzing ice cores. UMaine is part of an interdisciplinary collaborative proposal led by University of Washington researcher T.J. Fudge.

Ice cores are cylindrical samples of glacial ice drilled by scientists to study the record of the past climate. Each layer of ice can provide valuable information about the timing, magnitude and pace of major climate events — for example, by looking at concentrations of greenhouse gasses and other chemical impurities at different strata of the column that have accumulated over time.

Until now, layers of ice cores could only be measured at a resolution of about 1 centimeter, limiting the accuracy and length of the timescales of the data they can provide to researchers. Layers of ice further down the column, which date further back in time, are often compressed to only a fraction of their original thickness, making them difficult if not impossible to study at current resolutions. Scientists are increasingly interested in studying these thin layers, too, in order to understand abrupt historical climate changes in very old ice.

The ice core laser ablation method, developed a decade ago at UMaine by the Keck laser Ice core facility team, improves the depth of resolution in studying ice. In this research project Kurbatov and his collaborators aim to integrate a variety of technologies and techniques — electrical conductivity, hyperspectral imaging and laser ablation — to analyze and understand paleoclimate signals in highly compressed sections of ice.

In analyzing selected sections of Antarctic and Greenland ice, Kurbatov will  develop new data processing and image analyzing algorithms to use a hyperspectral line scan imaging camera — which looks at light in more details than the cameras previously used for this type of research — on ice cores.

“The hyperspectral imaging system was only tested before on a single ice core. We aim to learn a wealth of new information that will help us to better capture volcanic, dust and seasonal layers or post-depositional changes in ice cores,” Kurbatov says.

The ultimate goal of the work is to develop a state-of-the-art instrumentation package that guides a real time data collection workflow at the NSF Ice Core Facility. The system will be openly available for scientists to use in future ice core projects.

“We hope that new hyperspectral ice core images will serve the global ice core paleoclimate community the same way the Hubble space telescope has served astronomy,” Kurbatov says.

The award starts on Aug. 1, 2022.