Published reports of the presence of radioactive debris from the Chernobyl reactor accident in snow on the Greenland ice sheet raised the strong prospect that such debris might constitute a valuable time stratigraphic marker all over the ice sheet. Large volume snow samples to test this possibility were collected from 7 snowpits as part of a wide ranging regional snow chemistry survey conducted during 1987 and 1988. Snow “labeled” with Chernobyl derived radioactivity was detected in all of the pits. However, the total amount of radioactive debris found at the different locations varied over a 20 fold range. The variability in total fallout showed no clear large scale spatial pattern that could be related to the presumed progress of the radioactive plume over Greenland, suggesting that small scale differences in precipitation pattern and reworking of the snow by wind were predominantly responsible for the patchy preservation of the Chernobyl “layer” on the Greenland ice sheet.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Geophysical Research Letters



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



Copyright 1989 by the American Geophysical Union.