Spatial and Temporal Geochemical Characterization of Aeolian Material from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

TitleSpatial and Temporal Geochemical Characterization of Aeolian Material from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsDiaz, MA
Secondary AuthorsW Lyons, B
Academic DepartmentEarth Sciences
UniversityOhio State University

Aeolian processes play an important role in the transport of both geological and biological materials globally, on the biogeochemistry of ecosystems, and in landscape evolution. As the largest ice free area on the Antarctic continent (approximately 4800 km2), the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) are potentially a major source of aeolian material for Antarctica, but information on the spatial and temporal variability of this material is needed to understand its soluble and bulk geochemistry, deposition and source, and hence influence on ecosystem dynamics. 53 samples of aeolian material from Alatna Valley, Victoria Valley, Miers Valley, and Taylor Valley (Taylor Glacier, East Lake Bonney, F6 (Lake Fryxell), and Explorer’s Cove) were collected at five heights (5, 10, 20, 50, 100 cm) above the surface seasonally for 2013 through 2015. The sediment was analyzed for soluble solids, total and organic carbon, minerology, and bulk chemistry. Of the soluble component, the major anions varied between Cl- and HCO3-, and the major cation was Na+ for all sites. Soluble N:P ratios in the aeolian material reflect nutrient limitations seen in MDV soils, where younger, coastal soils are N-limited, while older, up valley soils are P-limited. Material from East Lake Bonney was P-limited in the winter samples, but N-limited in the full year samples, suggesting different sources of material based on season. Analysis of soluble salts in aeolian material in Taylor Valley compared to published soil literature demonstrates a primarily down valley transport of materials from Taylor Glacier towards the coast. The bulk chemistry suggests that the aeolian material is highly unweathered (CIA values less than 60 %), but scanning electron microscope images show alteration for some individual sediment grains. The mineralogy was reflective of local rocks, specifically the McMurdo Volcanics, Ferrar Dolerite, Beacon Sandstone and granite, but variations in major oxide percentages and rare earth element signatures could not be explained by mixing lines between these four rock types. This potentially suggests that there may be an additional, and possibly distant, source of aeolian material to the MDV that is not accounted for. This work provides the first fully elevated spatial and temporal analysis of the geochemistry of aeolian material from the Dry Valleys, and contributes to a better understanding of sediment provenance and how aeolian deposition may affect surface biological communities.