Ice Core Analysis

Identification and Quantification of Ice Core Impurities using Laser Ablation and Single Particle ICP-MS


Ice Core Analysis for Paleoclimate Studies

Ice cores are important paleoclimate archives that carry a wealth of information and record timescales of up to hundreds of millennia. For example, entrapped impurities in the ice can provide insights into past atmospheric aerosol concentrations, and distinct layers from past volcanic events allow to date and synchronize ice cores. With inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), such impurities can be measured in-situ by laser ablation, or as dissolved ions or single-particles in meltwater by liquid analysis.

TOFWERK’s icpTOF, coupled to state-of-the-art laser ablation systems, enables fast, multi-element imaging at high spatial resolution. A live preview of the laser ablation image in the TOFpilot software allows to immediately assess image quality during analysis. Output data files are in the open HDF5 file format, conveniently containing all analysis and metadata, and are compatible with major LA-ICP-MS software packages for post-processing.

Single particle ICP-MS (sp-ICP-MS) enables the elemental analysis of individual particles with very low concentration detection limits, making it an attractive method for analyzing single-particles trapped in polar ice. With its unique capability to simultaneously measure all elements in single particles, the icpTOF is a tool for quantification and fingerprinting nanoparticles in liquid samples.

Feature image courtesy of Tobias Erhardt, AWI, Germany. 


  • Laser Ablation Imaging of Ice Cores with the icpTOF 2R

    • Simultaneous multi-element, high-speed detection
    • Full-elemental imaging of solid samples
    • Fast acquisition synchronized to laser repetition rate
    • Imaging with one shot per pixel, full mass spectrum
    • Spot and line analyses
    • Direct communication with laser ablation software
    • Live preview of image scan

    laser ablation ice core analysis

    TOFpilot screenshot of a finished ice core image, 4 mm by 7 mm in size, showing the distribution of 23Na. The laser ablation system was an Analyte G2 equipped with a custom-build cryocell. Laser settings were 4.0 J/cm2 fluence, 35 µm spot size, 80 Hz repetition rate. Total acquisition time of the multi-element image was 21 minutes.

  • Elemental Analysis of Polar Ice and Dust Particles with the icpTOF R

    • Simultaneous multi-element, high-speed detection
    • Low particle number concentration detection limits
    • Compatible with continuous flow analysis (CFA) of melt water from ice cores






    single particle ice core

    Experimental setup of combination of continuous flow analysis (CFA) with ICP-TOFMS for the analysis of single particles (Erhardt et al. 2019, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b03886 )

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