For past climate conditions, ice cores offer an unique opportunity to study the optical properties of mineral dust aerosol and its role on climate evolution, as they preserve a pristine atmospheric input from the past. Aeolian dust preserved in deep polar ice cores has several properties providing key paleoclimate information such as: dust concentration, proxy for continental aridity, source intensity and hydrological cycle; dust grain-size, related to atmospheric transport; dust geochemical composition, indicative of dust provenance and environmental conditions at the sources and dust morphology (shape), that is a key parameter to assess the radiative effect.
For this reason an analytical platform dedicated to the optical characterization of dust in ice cores was created at the European Cold Laboratory Facilities of the University of Milano Bicocca. Currently, the system is made up of three instruments to retrieve the optical properties of such particles: an Abakus laser sensor, an instrument based on Single-Particle Extinction and Scattering (SPES) and a novel tool for Digital Holography. These instruments can provide information on the shape, size and absorption of dust particles. At the end of the analytical line a sampler collects discrete samples and additional instruments can be added to improve the measurement capability. This platform was developed to better meet the analytical needs requested by projects in the Italian Alps and in Polar regions (such as ADA270, EAIIST, OPTICE, Beyond Epica).