Biogeochemistry, contaminant transport, and atmospheric exchange in glacial cryoconite meltwater of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

TitleBiogeochemistry, contaminant transport, and atmospheric exchange in glacial cryoconite meltwater of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsMass, AQ, McKnight, DM
Academic DepartmentDepartment of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering
Number of Pages245
Date Published2018
UniversityUniversity of Colorado
CityBoulder, CO
Thesis Typedoctoral
KeywordsAntarctica, applied sciences, contaminant transport, cryoconite, earth sciences, glacier, hydrology, melt

Polar regions serve as a global sink for many forms of semi-volatile pollution emitted from low- or midlatitudes of the populated world. This study examined the longrange atmospheric transport, fate, and phase partitioning of semi-volatile organic contaminants from air masses into meltwater and aeolian sediment on six glaciers in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. A novel low-cost, field-portable instrument was developed for the in-situ solid-phase extraction of trace contaminants in extreme environmental conditions without access to electricity or traditional laboratory facilities. Beyond polar research, this equipment is applicable for rapid field extraction and stabilization of samples assessing air and water quality after natural disasters. This is the first published study to identify the presence of anthropogenic perfluorinated compounds in the Transantarctic Mountain region and indicates a longer range of poleward contaminant transport than prior estimates in the Southern Hemisphere. Additional research examined the biochemistry and climatic variability of open and sealed cryoconite holes on glacial surfaces throughout the initial melt, equilibrium, and refreezing periods in 2013–2015. High solute concentrations relative to glacial ice indicate that the pools can remain isolated from hydrologic connectivity for more than a decade. Microbial carbon cycling in pools enclosed by ice led to atmospheric disequilibrium and extreme pH. Analysis of unique air, liquid, and ice stratification in cryoconite holes revealed vertical patterns representing a highly accurate, multi-year record of past weather conditions sensitive enough to identify individual dates. This research identifies fluctuations in atmospheric contaminant transport, specific timeframes for deposition events, and may be used in back-trajectory models to help identify the source and variability of semi-volatile emissions in the Southern hemisphere.