Soil Moisture Controls the Thermal Habitat of Active Layer Soils in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

TitleSoil Moisture Controls the Thermal Habitat of Active Layer Soils in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsWlostowski, A, Gooseff, MN, Adams, B
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Date Published01/2018

Antarctic soil ecosystems are strongly controlled by abiotic habitat variables. Regional climate change in the McMurdo Dry Valleys is expected to cause warming over the next century, leading to an increase in frequency of freeze-thaw cycling in the soil habitat. Previous studies show that physiological stress associated with freeze-thaw cycling adversely affects invertebrate populations by decreasing abundance and positively selecting for larger body sizes. However, it remains unclear whether or not climate warming will indeed enhance the frequency of annual freeze-thaw cycling and associated physiological stresses. This research quantifies the frequency, rate, and spatial heterogeneity of active layer freezing to better understand how regional climate change may affect active layer soil thermodynamics, and, in turn, affect soil macroinvertebrate communities. Shallow active layer temperature, specific conductance, and soil moisture were observed along natural wetness gradients. Field observations show that the frequency and rate of freeze events are nonlinearly related to freezable soil moisture (θf). Over a 2 year period, soils at θf < 0.080 m3/m3 experienced between 15 and 35 freeze events and froze rapidly compared to soils with θf > 0.080 m3/m3, which experienced between 2 and 6 freeze events and froze more gradually. A numerical soil thermodynamic model is able to simulate observed freezing rates across a range of θf, reinforcing a well-known causal relationship between soil moisture and active layer freezing dynamics. Findings show that slight increases in soil moisture can potentially offset the effect of climate warming on exacerbating soil freeze-thaw cycling.

Short TitleJ. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci.