|Title||Episodic basin-scale soil moisture anomalies associated with high relative humidity events in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2021|
|Keywords||deliquescence, hydrology, microclimate, micrometeorology, pedology, remote sensing|
Outside of hydrologically wetted active layer soils and humidity-sensitive soil brines, low soil moisture is a limiting factor controlling biogeochemical processes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. But anecdotal field observations suggest that episodic wetting and darkening of surface soils in the absence of snowmelt occurs during high humidity conditions. Here, I analyse long-term meteorological station data to determine whether soil-darkening episodes are present in the instrumental record and whether they are, in fact, correlated with relative humidity. A strong linear correlation is found between relative humidity and soil reflectance at the Lake Bonney long-term autonomous weather station. Soil reflectance is found to decrease annually by a median of 27.7% in response to high humidity conditions. This magnitude of darkening is consistent with soil moisture rising from typical background values of < 0.5 wt.% to 2–3 wt.%, suggesting that regional atmospheric processes may result in widespread soil moisture generation in otherwise dry surface soils. Temperature and relative humidity conditions under which darkening is observed occur for hundreds of hours per year, but are dominated by episodes occurring between midnight and 07h00 local time, suggesting that wetting events may be common, but are not widely observed during typical diel science operations.