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800,000 Year Ice-Core Records of Atmospheric Nitrous Oxide (N2O)

This page introduces ice-core records of nitrous oxide (N2O) extending back 800,000 years at Dome C, Antarctica. Links are also provided to shorter records from other Antarctic locations. The 2000-year record from Law Dome, Antarctica, has been merged with modern records to create a long-term record to the present.

These records are maintained by the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and have graciously been made freely available for access and distribution. The original investigators made the effort to obtain the data and assure their quality. To assure proper credit is given, please follow the instructions in the headers of the data files and/or at the end of this page when using any of this material. If data accessed from this site are to be used in a publication we strongly recommend some contact with the principal investigators to be sure the data are being interpreted and used correctly. Neither the principal investigators nor CDIAC is responsible for misuse of these data.


EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) Members. A. Schilt, R. Spahni, M. Baumgartner, J. Flückiger, G. Hausammann, K. Kawamura, J. Schwander, H. Fischer and Thomas F. Stocker.

Collective Period of Record

~800,000 years BP - 20th Century CE

Antarctic Ice-Core Stations


Maps of Antarctica showing locations and elevations in meters above sea level (masl) of: Law Dome (66°44'S, 112°50'E, 1390 masl), Dome C (75°06'S, 123°24'E, 3233 masl), Taylor Dome (77°48'S, 158°43'E, 2365 masl), Vostok (78°28'S, 106°52'E, 3500 masl), Dome A (80°22'S, 77°22'E, 4084 masl), the South Pole station (90°S, 2810 masl), and Siple Station (75°55'S, 83°55'W, 1054 masl).

graphics Graphics

data Data

Dome C "800,000-year" EPICA Record

Additional Ice-Core Data Found at the World Data Center Ice-Core Gateway

Law Dome (1- 2004 CE, Merged With Modern Observational Data)


Air from samples of about 40g are extracted with a melt-refreezing method, and the extracted gas is then analyzed for N2O by gas chromatography followed by electron capture. Amounts are expressed in parts per billion (ppb). Two standard gases (201 ppb and 304 ppb N2O) have been used for calibration. The mean analytical uncertainty (1s) is 3.7 ppb (Spahni et al., 2005 or Flückiger et al., 2002, 2004).

Temporal Uncertainty

Temporal uncertainty in the EPICA 800,000-year series increases with core depth, but estimates indicate that it is usually less than 5% of the true age and is frequently much less than that. The most recent "EDC3" chronology is based on a snow accumulation and mechanical flow model combined with a set of independent age markers along the core, indicating either well-dated paleoclimatic records or insolation variations. See Parrenin et al. (2007) for more detail.


Atmospheric N2O levels over the last 800,000 years have fluctuated between about 180 and 310 ppb. The Taylor Dome record indicates similar changes over the 100,000 period of record for that time series (see Graphics). The temporal relationship of N2O to CO2 and CH4 is less clear than is the relationship of CO2 and CH4 to each other. This is at least partly due to N2O measurement problems associated with dust contamination (Spahni, 2005). Modern (year 2010) N2O amounts were 322 ppb at Cape Grim, Tasmania and the South Pole.


  • Flückiger, J., E. Monnin, B. Stauffer, J. Schwander, T.F. Stocker, et al. 2002. High resolution Holocene N2O ice core record and its relationship with CH4 and CO2. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 16. doi: 10.1029/2001GB001417.
  • Fluckiger, J., T. Blunier, B. Stauffer, J. Chappellaz, R. Spahni, et al. 2004. N2O and CH4 variations during the last glacial epoch: insight into global processes. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 18. doi: 10.1029/2003GB002122
  • Parrenin, F., J.-M. Barnola, J. Beer, T. Blunier, E. Castellano, et al. 2007. The EDC3 chronology for the EPICA Dome C ice core. Climate of the Past 3, 485-497.
  • Schilt, A., M. Baumgartner, T. Blunier, J. Schwander, R. Spahni, H. Fischer, T.F. Stocker. 2010. Glacial-Interglacial and Millennial Scale Variations in the Atmospheric Nitrous Oxide during the last 800,000 Years. Quaternary Science Reviews 29, 182-192.
  • Spahni, R., J. Chappellaz, T.F. Stocker, L. Loulergue, G. Hausammann, et al. 2005. Atmospheric methane and nitrous oxide of the late Pleistocene from Antarctic ice cores. Science 310: 1317-1321. doi:10.1126/science.1120132.



Schilt, A., et al. 2010. EPICA Dome C Ice Core 800KYr N2O Data. IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Data Contribution Series # 2010-005. NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA. Accessed from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy.

Also cite the reference to Schilt et al. 2010, given above, and/or any of the other references given in the page accessed using the data link, if using the data in any published work.

Other Data Sets

Instructions are given in the headers of the World Data Center data sets.