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The soil geochemistry in the Beardmore Glacier Region, Antarctica: Implications for terrestrial ecosystem history

Although most models suggest continental Antarctica was covered by ice during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) it has been speculated that endemic species of soil invertebrates could have survived the Pleistocene at high elevation habitats protruding above the ice sheets. We analyzed a series of soil samples from different elevations at three locations along the Beardmore Glacier in the Transantarctic Mountains (in order of increasing elevation): Ebony Ridge (ER), Cloudmaker (CM), and Meyer Desert (MD). Geochemical analyses show the MD soils, which were exposed during the LGM, were the least weathered compared to lower elevations, and also had the highest total dissolved solids (TDS). MD soils are dominated by nitrate salts (NO₃/Cl ratios >10) that can be observed in SEM images. High δ¹⁷O and δ¹⁸O values of the nitrate indicate that its source is solely of atmospheric origin. It is suggested that nitrate concentrations in the soil may be utilized to determine a relative “wetting age” to better assess invertebrate habitat suitability. The highest elevation sites at MD have been exposed and accumulating salts for the longest times, and because of the salt accumulations, they were not suitable as invertebrate refugia during the LGM.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Lyons, W. B., Deuerling, K., Welch, K. A., Welch, S. A., Michalski, G., Walters, W. W., … Adams, B. J. (2016). The soil geochemistry in the Beardmore Glacier Region, Antarctica: Implications for terrestrial ecosystem history. Scientific Reports, 6(Article Number 26189). http://doi.org/10.1038/srep26189
Nature Publishing Group
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