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  1. Abstract

    Aquatic ecosystems - lakes, ponds and streams - are hotspots of biodiversity in the cold and arid environment of Continental Antarctica. Environmental change is expected to increasingly alter Antarctic aquatic ecosystems and modify the physical characteristics and interactions within the habitats that they support. Here, we describe physical and biological features of the peripheral ‘moat’ of a closed-basin Antarctic lake. These moats mediate connectivity amongst streams, lake and soils. We highlight the cyclical moat transition from a frozen winter state to an active open-water summer system, through refreeze as winter returns. Summer melting begins at the lakebed, initially creating an ice-constrained lens of liquid water in November, which swiftly progresses upwards, creating open water in December. Conversely, freezing progresses slowly from the water surface downwards, with water at 1 m bottom depth remaining liquid until May. Moats support productive, diverse benthic communities that are taxonomically distinct from those under the adjacent permanent lake ice. We show how ion ratios suggest that summer exchange occurs amongst moats, streams, soils and sub-ice lake water, perhaps facilitated by within-moat density-driven convection. Moats occupy a small but dynamic area of lake habitat, are disproportionately affected by recent lake-level rises and may thus be particularly vulnerable to hydrological change.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 19, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Oxygen consumption in aquatic sediments is an indicator of overall biological activity of the ecosystem. As such, rates of sedimentary oxygen utilization are well documented for much of the open oceans and freshwater lakes. However, there are few direct measurements of sedimentary oxygen consumption from Antarctic subglacial aquatic sediments. We report the first microsensor oxygen profiles and derived sedimentary oxygen consumption rates from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf and a subglacial lake beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Rates of oxygen consumption in these two environments are relatively low, but comparable to those reported from ice‐free polar oceans and oligotrophic Arctic lakes. Our study demonstrates the presence of oxygen within Antarctic subglacial aquatic sediments and its importance for oxygen‐consuming microorganisms living in these ecosystems.

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  3. Abstract

    Glaciers form the headwaters of many watersheds and, in arid polar environments, can provide the vast majority of water to downstream systems. Headwater watersheds are critically important for setting the chemistry for downstream systems, yet we know comparatively little about the patterns and processes that generate the geochemical signature of meltwater on glacier surfaces. Here, we focus on glaciers in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, the largest ice‐free area on the continent, characterized by alpine glaciers flowing into broad, rocky valleys. We examine patterns from the coast inland, accumulation to ablation zones, laterally across individual glaciers, and through the zone of meltwater generation. We directly compare solutes to sediment concentrations, a major source of dissolved solutes. Our findings agree with previous work that the overall meltwater chemistry of a given glacier is a product of local sediment sources and regional wind patterns: foehn winds moving from the ice sheet to the coast and on‐shore sea breezes. Further, these patterns hold across an individual glacier. Finally, we find that the ice chemistry and sediment profiles reflect freeze‐thaw and melt processes that occur at depth. This indicates that the transport and weathering of sediment in the ice profile likely has a strong influence on supra‐ and proglacial stream chemistry. This new understanding strengthens connections between physical and geochemical processes in cold‐based polar glacier environments and helps us better understand the processes driving landscape and ecosystem connectivity.

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  4. Abstract

    Airborne electromagnetic surveys collected in December 2011 and November 2018 and three soil sampling transects were used to analyze the spatial heterogeneity of shallow (<4 m) soil properties in lower Taylor Valley (TV), East Antarctica. Soil resistivities from 2011 to 2018 ranged from ∼33 Ωm to ∼3,500 Ωm with 200 Ωm assigned as an upper boundary for brine‐saturated sediments. Elevations below ∼50 m above sea level (masl) typically exhibit the lowest resistivities with resistivity increasing at high elevations on steeper slopes. Soil water content was empirically estimated from electrical resistivities using Archie's Law and range from ∼<1% to ∼68% by volume. An increase in silt‐ and clay‐sized particles at low elevations increases soil porosity but decreases hydraulic conductivity, promoting greater residence times of soil water at low elevations near Lake Fryxell. Soil resistivity variability between 2011 and 2018 shows soils at different stages of soil freeze‐thaw cycles, which are caused predominantly by solar warming of soils as opposed to air temperature. This study furthers the understanding of the hydrogeologic structure of the shallow subsurface in TV and identifies locations of soils that are potentially prone to greater rates of thaw and resulting ecosystem homogenization of soil properties from projected increases in hydrological connectivity across the region over the coming decades.

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  5. abstract

    Long-term observations and experiments in diverse drylands reveal how ecosystems and services are responding to climate change. To develop generalities about climate change impacts at dryland sites, we compared broadscale patterns in climate and synthesized primary production responses among the eight terrestrial, nonforested sites of the United States Long-Term Ecological Research (US LTER) Network located in temperate (Southwest and Midwest) and polar (Arctic and Antarctic) regions. All sites experienced warming in recent decades, whereas drought varied regionally with multidecadal phases. Multiple years of wet or dry conditions had larger effects than single years on primary production. Droughts, floods, and wildfires altered resource availability and restructured plant communities, with greater impacts on primary production than warming alone. During severe regional droughts, air pollution from wildfire and dust events peaked. Studies at US LTER drylands over more than 40 years demonstrate reciprocal links and feedbacks among dryland ecosystems, climate-driven disturbance events, and climate change.

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  6. Abstract

    The McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDVs), Antarctica, represent a cold, desert ecosystem poised on the threshold of melting and freezing water. The MDVs have experienced dramatic signs of climatic change, most notably a warm austral summer in 2001–2002 that caused widespread flooding, partial ice cover loss and lake level rise. To understand the impact of these climatic disturbances on lake microbial communities, we simulated lake level rise and ice‐cover loss by transplanting dialysis‐bagged communities from selected depths to other locations in the water column or to an open water perimeter moat. Bacteria and eukaryote communities residing in the surface waters (5 m) exhibited shifts in community composition when exposed to either disturbance, while microbial communities from below the surface were largely unaffected by the transplant. We also observed an accumulation of labile dissolved organic carbon in the transplanted surface communities. In addition, there were taxa‐specific sensitivities: cryptophytes and Actinobacteria were highly sensitive particularly to the moat transplant, while chlorophytes and several bacterial taxa increased in relative abundance or were unaffected. Our results reveal that future climate‐driven disturbances will likely undermine the stability and productivity of MDV lake phytoplankton and bacterial communities in the surface waters of this extreme environment.

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  7. Abstract

    Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is a key variable impacting stream biogeochemical processes. The relationship between DOC concentration (C) and stream discharge (q) can elucidate spatial and temporal DOC source dynamics in watersheds. In the ephemeral glacial meltwater streams of the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV), Antarctica, the C‐qrelationship has been applied to dissolved inorganic nitrogen and weathering solutes including silica, which all exhibit chemostatic C‐qbehavior; but DOC‐qdynamics have not been studied. DOC concentrations here are low compared to temperate streams, in the range of 0.1–2 mg C l−1, and their chemical signal clearly indicates derivation from microbial biomass (benthic mats and hyporheic biofilm). To investigate whether the DOC generation rate from these autochthonous organic matter pools was sufficient to maintain chemostasis for DOC, despite these streams' large diel and interannual fluctuations in discharge, we fit the long‐term DOC‐qdata to a power law and an advection‐reaction model. Model outputs and coefficients of variation characterize the DOC‐qrelationship as chemostatic for several MDV streams. We propose a conceptual model in which hyporheic carbon storage, hyporheic exchange rates, and net DOC generation rates are key interacting components that enable chemostatic DOC‐qbehavior in MDV streams. This model clarifies the role of autochthonous carbon stores in maintaining DOC chemostasis and may be useful for examining these relationships in temperate systems, which typically have larger sources of bioavailable autochthonous organic carbon than MDV streams but where this autochthonous signal could be masked by a stronger allochthonous contribution.

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  8. Abstract

    Water movement in ice‐covered lakes is known to be driven by wind, sediment heat flux, solar radiation, saline density flows, and advective stream discharge. In large ice‐covered lakes, wind‐induced oscillations have been found to play a major role in horizontal flows. Here, we report recurrent, wind‐driven, barotropic seiches in a small lake with a thick (~4 m) permanent ice‐cover. Between 2010 and 2016, we recorded 10.5‐ to 13‐min oscillations of the hydrostatic water level in Lake Hoare, McMurdo Dry Valleys, East Antarctica, using pressure transducers moored to the lake bottom and suspended from the ice cover. Theoretical calculations showed a barotropic seiche should have a period of 12.6 min. Barotropic seiches were most frequent during high wind events (> 5 m s−1) in winter months (February–November). The period increased during summer months (December–January) when fast ice thinned and melted along the shoreline.

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  9. Abstract

    Glaciers of the McMurdo dry valleys (MDVs) Antarctica are the main source of streamflow in this polar desert. Because summer air temperatures hover near 0°C small changes in the energy balance strongly affect meltwater generation. Here we demonstrate that increased surface roughness, which alters the turbulent transfer of energy between the ice surface and atmosphere, yields a detectable increase in meltwater runoff. At low elevations on the glaciers, basin‐like topography became significantly rougher over 13 years between repeat lidar surveys, yielding greater melt. In contrast, the smoother ice at higher elevation exhibited no detectable change in roughness. We pose a conceptual model of the cycle of glacier surface change as a result of climate forcing whereby glacier surfaces transition from being dominated by sublimation to becoming increasingly melt‐dominated, which is reversible under prolonged cool periods. This research advances our understanding of warm season effects on polar glaciers.

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  10. Abstract

    Understanding how terrestrial biotic communities have responded to glacial recession since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) can inform present and future responses of biota to climate change. In Antarctica, the Transantarctic Mountains (TAM) have experienced massive environmental changes associated with glacial retreat since the LGM, yet we have few clues as to how its soil invertebrate‐dominated animal communities have responded. Here, we surveyed soil invertebrate fauna from above and below proposed LGM elevations along transects located at 12 features across the Shackleton Glacier region. Our transects captured gradients of surface ages possibly up to 4.5 million years and the soils have been free from human disturbance for their entire history. Our data support the hypothesis that soils exposed during the LGM are now less suitable habitats for invertebrates than those that have been exposed by deglaciation following the LGM. Our results show that faunal abundance, community composition, and diversity were all strongly affected by climate‐driven changes since the LGM. Soils more recently exposed by the glacial recession (as indicated by distances from present ice surfaces) had higher faunal abundances and species richness than older exposed soils. Higher abundances of the dominant nematodeScottnemawere found in older exposed soils, whileEudorylaimus,Plectus, tardigrades, and rotifers preferentially occurred in more recently exposed soils. Approximately 30% of the soils from which invertebrates could be extracted had onlyScottnema, and these single‐taxon communities occurred more frequently in soils exposed for longer periods of time. Our structural equation modeling of abiotic drivers highlighted soil salinity as a key mediator ofScottnemaresponses to soil exposure age. These changes in soil habitat suitability and biotic communities since the LGM indicate that Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity throughout the TAM will be highly altered by climate warming.

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