Articles | Volume 13, issue 6
Biogeosciences, 13, 1723–1732, 2016

Special issue: Freshwater ecosystems in changing permafrost landscapes

Biogeosciences, 13, 1723–1732, 2016

Research article 21 Mar 2016

Research article | 21 Mar 2016

Stream biogeochemical and suspended sediment responses to permafrost degradation in stream banks in Taylor Valley, Antarctica

Michael N. Gooseff1, David Van Horn2, Zachary Sudman3, Diane M. McKnight1, Kathleene A. Welch4, and William B. Lyons4 Michael N. Gooseff et al.
  • 1Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • 2Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
  • 3Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
  • 4School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Abstract. Stream channels in the McMurdo Dry Valleys are characteristically wide, incised, and stable. At typical flows, streams occupy a fraction of the oversized channels, providing habitat for algal mats. In January 2012, we discovered substantial channel erosion and subsurface thermomechanical erosion undercutting banks of the Crescent Stream. We sampled stream water along the impacted reach and compared concentrations of solutes to the long-term data from this stream ( ∼  20 years of monitoring). Thermokarst-impacted stream water demonstrated higher electrical conductivity, and concentrations of chloride, sulfate, sodium, and nitrate than the long-term medians. These results suggest that this mode of lateral permafrost degradation may substantially impact stream solute loads and potentially fertilize stream and lake ecosystems. The potential for sediment to scour or bury stream algal mats is yet to be determined, though it may offset impacts of associated increased nutrient loads to streams.

Short summary
The landscape of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica has been considered quite stable. In 2012, we discovered extensive permafrost degradation along several km of Crescent Stream. Here we document the responses to water quality, specifically changes to dissolved major ion and suspended sediment characteristics. Stream nitrate concentrations were greater than observed in the stream over the previous ~ 20 years, suggesting potentially significant impacts for stream and downstream lake ecosystems.
Final-revised paper