Bruce H. Vaughn

Research Associate

  • Manager, Stable Isotope Lab


  • MSc: University of Colorado, 1994

Contact Information

(Office) 303 492-7985
(Fax) 303 492-6388
UCB 450 University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309
(Lab) 303 492-5495
(Other) 303 249-2698


Isotopic analysis in global change, paleoclimate, glacier hydrology, atmospheric trace gases, and instrument development.

Research Interests

  Carbon Cycle; Paleoclimate records in ice cores; Atmosphere-Ice Sheet interactions; Water Vapor Isotopes in the Atmosphere.


    Bruce manages the INSTAAR Stable Isotope lab and uses stable isotopes to study biogeochemical processes that control environmental change on human timescales.  The lab collaborates with the NOAA Global Monitoring Division and measures stable isotopes of bi-weekly atmospheric trace gas samples from over 50 sites, adding to a 20+ year global data base. The lab also creates extremely high-resolution paleoclimate records from stable isotopes of polar ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica.  With a fleet of 8 mass spectrometers and a growing number of laser-based spectroscopy instruments, the lab continues to pioneer new methods and techniques using stable isotopes for a variety of applications.

    Jim White and Bruce Vaughn began the Stable Isotope Lab at INSTAAR in 1989 with 2 mass spectrometers, focusing on ice cores and developing methods for measuring isotopes in atmospheric CO2. The lab has now grown to include multiple instruments and multiple projects. Bruce manages the lab with its current staff of five, plus graduate students, and collaborates with many researchers on a variety of  projects. Prior to INSTAAR, Bruce was with the Water Resources Division of the USGS, Project office Glaciology. His passion for Earth science has always included an important role for field work. Sites over the years have included Greenland, Antarctica, Ecuador, Alaska, the Central Pacific islands, Grand Canyon, and the North Cascades.

Current efforts include a pioneering effort into the use of unmanned aireal vehicles (UAV's, or drones) for making measurements of atmospheric water vapor and stable isotopes.  The findings will inform a better understanding of ice sheet- atmosphere interactions and implications for quantifying direct sublimation, which impact surface mass balance, and by extension, seal level rise.  This deeper understanding of water vapor and post depositional changes in isotopes of surface snow will also further illuminate our interpretation of isotopic signatures in ice cores.


  • INSTAAR Fellow, INSTAAR, 2019
Photo Gallery


Research Statement


In addition to carbon cycle relevant measurements of atmospheric greenhouse gasess, my field research is closely linked to the laboratory analysis of stable isotopes in ice cores from polar regions. More recently we have been investigating the role of water vapor isotopes in the atmosphere above the greenland ice sheet.  This is important because not only does the atmosphere transfer climate information to the ice sheet via precipitation that eventually makes up the ice core record, but the ice sheet exchanges water vapor with the atmosphere between snow storms, and possibly during them.

To do this we have employed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) or drones to collect air samples that we analyze. In 2018 we deployed a multi-rotor drone to prove the concept of remote sampling capability to ~500 meters above the ice sheet at the EGRIP Ice Core site in NE Greenland.  In 2019 we used a fixed wing (3 meter wing span) UAV to collect samples 1,500 meters above the ice sheet, well into the planetary boundary layer.  Results from these studies will deepen our understanding of the ice core record as well as shed light on direct sublimation of the ice sheet and the surface mass balance of Greenland.

Active Research

Research Labs and Groups



Petron, G., Miller B., Bruce H. Vaughn, Thorley, E., Kofler, J., Mielke-Maday, I., Sherwood, O., Dlugokencky, E., Hall, B., Schwietzke, S., Conley, S. , Peischl, J. , Lang, P., Moglia, E. , Crotwell, M. , Crotwell, A. , Sweeney, C. , Newberger, T. , Wolter, S. , Kitzis, D. , Bianco, L. , King, C. , Coleman, T. , White, A. , Rhodes, M. , Tans, P. , Schnell, R. 2020: Investigating large methane enhancements in the U.S. San Juan Basin. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 8(1): 038. DOI: 10.1525/elementa.038

Kahle, E. C., Steig, E. J., Tyler Jones, Fudge, T. J., Koutnik, M. R., Valerie MorrisBruce H. Vaughn, Schauer, A. J., Stevens, M. C., Conway, H., Waddington, E. D., Buizert, C., Epifanio, J., James W. C. White 2020: Reconstruction of temperature, accumulation rate, and layer thinning from an ice core at South Pole, using a statistical inverse method. Journal of Geophysical Research—Atmospheres, preprint. DOI: 10.1002/essoar.10503447.1

Havranek, R. E., Snell, K. E., Davidheiser‐Kroll, B., Bowen, G. J., Bruce H. Vaughn 2020: The Soil Water Isotope Storage System (SWISS): An integrated soil water vapor sampling and multiport storage system for stable isotope geochemistry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 34(12): e8783. DOI: 10.1002/rcm.8783

Isaac Vimont, Turnbull, J. C., Petrenko, V. V., Place, P. F., Sweeney, C., Miles, N., Richardson, S., Bruce H. VaughnJames W. C. White 2019: An improved estimate for the δ13C and δ18O signatures of carbon monoxide produced from atmospheric oxidation of volatile organic compounds. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 19(13): 8547-8562. DOI: 10.5194/acp-19-8547-2019

Hu, L., Andrews, A. E., Thoning, K. W., Sweeney, C., Miller, J. B., Michalak, A. M., Dlugokencky, E., Tans, P. P., Shiga, Y. P., Mountain, M., Nehrkorn, T., Montzka, S. A., McKain, K., Kofler, J., Trudeau, M., Sylvia Englund Michel, Biraud, S. C., Fischer, M. L., Worthy, D. E. J., Bruce H. VaughnJames W. C. White, Yadav, V., Basu, S., van der Velde, I. R. 2019: Enhanced North American carbon uptake associated with El Niño. Science Advances, 5(6): eaaw0076. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw0076

Madsen, M. V., Steen-Larsen, H. C., Hoerhold, M., Box, J., Berben, S. M. P., Capron, E., Faber, A.-K., Hubbard, A., Jensen, M. F., Tyler Jones, Kipfstuhl, S., Koldtoft, I., Pillar, H. R., Bruce H. Vaughn, Vladimirova, D., Dahl-Jensen, D. 2019: Evidence of isotopic fractionation during vapor exchange between the atmosphere and the snow surface in Greenland. Journal of Geophysical Research—Atmospheres, 124(6): 2932-2945. DOI: 10.1029/2018JD029619

All publications by Bruce H. Vaughn >