Abstract

Trees are useful archives of past atmospheric conditions. They have most commonly been used to infer large-scale changes in climate, industrial pollution, and the magnitude and frequency of geological hazards. While geochemical changes in tree rings have been linked to localized anthropogenic smelter pollution, their potential to track geochemical changes in volcanic degassing has not yet been fully realized. Here, we applied a new proxy using sulfur and carbon isotopes in tree rings to examine fluctuations in gas emission at Turrialba volcano, Costa Rica. Since 2009, Turrialba has emitted a persistent gas plume and increasingly frequent explosions and ash eruptions as activity has accelerated. We collected cores from a species of alder tree, Alnus acuminata, at several locations surrounding the volcano. Biannual isotopic analysis of rings demonstrated a notable δ34S shift of –5.2‰ and a similarly sharp δ13C shift of +1.3‰ in trees downwind of the plume following the onset of strong degassing in 2009. We propose that these shifts in the isotopic values of the tree correspond to those of the volcanic SO2 and CO2, and in the case of the δ13C, an additional fractionation caused by leaf impairment from exposure to volcanic SO2. This new proxy can be applied to other volcanoes as a novel method of obtaining a temporal record of degassing, a crucial tool for volcano monitoring.

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