Rapid, widespread changes may be coming to Antarctica's Dry Valleys, study finds

October 9, 2018, Portland State University
A member of the research team inspects buried ice melting out from beneath a thin soil cover. Credit: Joseph Levy

Antarctica's sandy polar desert, the McMurdo Dry Valleys, has undergone changes over the past decade and the recent discovery of thawing permafrost, thinning glaciers and melting ground ice by a Portland State University-led research team are signs that rapid and widespread change could be on the horizon.

Led by Andrew Fountain, a geology professor in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a team of researchers used an airborne laser scanner, or lidar, to measure the surface elevations of glaciers, soils and ice-covered lakes in Antarctica's largest exposed land region. The team then compared the elevations to similar measurements made in 2001 by a different project.

The work was support by the National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, the nation's research endeavor on the southernmost continent.

The findings were reported Sept. 13 in the journal Geomorphology.

"Millions of cubic meters of buried ice have melted in the last decade," said Joseph Levy, the paper's lead author and an assistant professor of geology at Colgate University. "It's unprecedented change over the historic period of Antarctica and perhaps since the end of the last ice age. If it keeps up, it could remove the last ice deposits from some valleys in about five hundred years."

Levy said they believe the culprit is meltwater. When soils thaw and become wet from melting the buried ice below, their insulating capacity is reduced and they conduct much more heat.

Rapid, widespread changes may be coming to Antarctica's Dry Valleys, study finds
An animated gif showing the banks of Alph Lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, in 2001 and 2014. The walls of the lake are collapsing and the channel feeding it is getting much deeper and wider as warm water pours down the slopes, melting ground ice. Credit: Joseph Levy
"The valleys have been considered almost timeless, yet here we see some changes that would be considered rapid even in more temperate climates," Fountain said.

These rapid changes over the past 14 years come at a time when the Antarctic climate may be turning a corner. While the Dry Valleys region was cooling locally during the 1990s and early 2000s, warmer summers followed. A major melt episode in the Antarctic summer of 2001-2002 set the stage for widespread melting in this polar desert landscape.

"The melting mirrors the kind of melting scientists expect to see in the coming decades if climate warming catches up with the more isolated corners of Antarctica," Levy said.

Fountain added that the Dry Valleys may be on the threshold of a major reorganization.

Levy and Fountain said the melting of ground ice and thinning of glaciers threatens to disrupt delicate polar desert ecosystems and wash away clues to past climate change.

"The story of how ice sheets collapsed at the end of the last two ice ages is written in the permafrost landforms stuck to mountains and valleys in Antarctica," Levy said. "When that frozen ground thaws and turns to mud, it's like dropping your notebook in a puddle. The records are gone."

Explore further: Coastal Antarctic permafrost melting faster than expected

More information: J.S. Levy et al, Decadal topographic change in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica: Thermokarst subsidence, glacier thinning, and transfer of water storage from the cryosphere to the hydrosphere, Geomorphology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2018.09.012

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Thorium Boy
2 / 5 (4) Oct 09, 2018
Warmer, less-dry. Wow. That sounds terrible.
Anonym518498
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 09, 2018
the sky is falling the sky is falling, we must tax gasoline at $240 per gallon.

COMPLETE LUNATIC MORONS
howhot3
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 09, 2018
Don't you wish the two previous posters would have at least read the article and posted something relevant to it? Sorry to say you will be disappointed. They are rightwing idiots. Want to be Putin hipsters.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Oct 09, 2018
Don't you wish the two previous posters would have at least read the article and posted something relevant to it? Sorry to say you will be disappointed. They are rightwing idiots. Want to be Putin hipsters.

Even Putin isn't that rightwing....
rrwillsj
4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 10, 2018
bag_boy and annoyingmousie, making their daily quota of politically-correct, ideologically-pure stupid.
Steelwolf
not rated yet Oct 10, 2018
I just wonder how many times conditions have gotten to the point where they erase a lot of information and even possible signs of past civilizations, let alone evidence of how the ice is melting.

Consider the Grand Monuments areas,, where there are lots of mesas and plateaus, it shows where a LOT of surface land and soils, as well as the geological record that went with them, have been turned into sand, dust and silt washed down ancient rivers.

Ash fall and lava flows have covered vast expanses on this planet, who knows what past flora, fauna and possible different races and civilizations lost due to massive climatic change brought on by geological changes, such as large volcanoes. We know that the Yellowstone Caldera, when active, was a massive and heavy ash-cloud producer that buried whole forests and peat lands, leading to present day coal formations in some areas.

The First Nations folks here considered Mt Tahoma (Mt. Rainier) as The Mountain That IS God.
Steelwolf
not rated yet Oct 10, 2018
We also have periodic episodes of glaciation leading to 'ice ages', which drastically lower the shoreline and disrupt most signs of any civilizations that may have existed in those areas that get covered with ice.

People will always live near riverine areas or seashores, as these are major sources of food and easier transportation. However, all signs of any civilization that built up during the ice age would be predominantly in those areas where sea levels would rise to cover them as the ice melted back, sometimes catastrophically fast if ice dams break releasing melt-lakes.

We have plenty of evidence of just that here in the Pacific Northwest, along stretches of the Columbia River. Worldwide there is ample evidence of the rise and fall of sea-water levels, and there is ample evidence of much land and possible geophysical and archaeological having been lost to extreme erosion events and inundation which fits many worldwide mythologies of The Floods: more than one we know of.
Thorium Boy
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2018
The Antarctic isn't the preserve of cloistered scientists and rich dummies who pay $15,000 a trip to go take mediocre photos of the place. It should be exploited and warmer temps will help. Too bad it's not getting warmer.
Ojorf
3 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2018
The Antarctic isn't the preserve of cloistered scientists and rich dummies who pay $15,000 a trip to go take mediocre photos of the place. It should be exploited and warmer temps will help. Too bad it's not getting warmer.


Cognitive dissonance much? Logic? Rational thought? A brain???
Why can't you see what is right in front of you?

Why would the ice melt if it was not getting warmer?

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