Hydrologic controls of nutrient fluxes in glacial meltwater streams at inter-annual, seasonal, and daily timescales in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

TitleHydrologic controls of nutrient fluxes in glacial meltwater streams at inter-annual, seasonal, and daily timescales in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsWeaver, MR, Gooseff, MN
Academic DepartmentDepartment of Civil & Environmental Engineering
UniversityPennsylvania State University
Thesis Typemasters
KeywordsAntarctica, biogeochemistry, chemical weathering, discharge, electrical conductivity, glacial melt, glaciers, hydrology, hyporheic, MCM LTER, McMurdo Dry Valleys, nutrient fluxes, nutrients, polar desert, solute chemistry, stream chemistry, streamflow, water chemistry

In the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, glaciers are hydrologically linked to closed-basin lakes at the valley floor by glacial meltwater streams. Streams flow through porous, well-defined channels with extensive chemically active hyporheic zones. Temporally varying dynamics of meltwater generation and sub-stream thaw depth are thought to control the potential for the hyporheic zone and benthic communities to influence transport of nutrients and dissolved ions downstream. Using the McMurdo LTER database, patterns in stream discharge, electrical conductivity (both with 15-minute sampling intervals), and solute chemistry (weekly sampling intervals) were examined on eight MDV streams from 1990-2008. Discharge and electrical conductivity values were highly variable among streams. Discharge values were highly dependent upon glacial source area, but meteorological and topographical complexities create large variability at all time scales. The longer streams were found to have much higher electrical conductivity values than the shorter streams, suggesting that there are more opportunities for hyporheic weathering reactions along longer stream reaches. Weekly sampled water solutes from each stream's entire record were plotted against the discharge recorded at the time when the sample was taken. Silicate concentrations displayed a decreasing logarithmic relationship, while nutrient concentrations had no apparent relationship. This suggests that with the exception to bioreactive solutes, the majority of hyporheic interactions could possibly be characterized by electrical conductivity and discharge. To attain information on in-stream nutrient dynamics and nutrient fluxes, glacial source water at the upper reach of Green Creek and stream outlet water at the lower reach of Green Creek were sampled hourly for two separate diel periods during the 2008-09 austral summer. Both dates were in late January under two distinct flow conditions (~0.5 L/s and ~10 L/s). Under low flow conditions, nutrient cycling was found to be uptake dominated. High flow conditions showed both uptake and regeneration with much higher nutrient loads, but as in the low flow conditions, no apparent temporal trends were found. Nutrient concentrations could not be predicted using the two parameters of discharge and electrical conductivity with in-stream nutrient dynamics likely too complicated at the sub-daily scale.