Environmental evolution of a small Antarctic fjord through the recent past

gerhard.kuhn [ at ] awi.de


Rapid regional warming at an increasing pace ever since the end of the Little Ice Age (c. AD 1900) causes significant change in the coastal marine environments of the West Antarctic Peninsula and beyond. A comprehensive set of hydroacoustic ground-discrimination data (RoxAnn GDX) was gathered to develop a high resolution characterization of the seafloor habitats in the Potter Cove, King George Island, a small fjord with a retreating former tidewater glacier at its head. Sediment samples and underwater video footage are used for ground truthing. Seven habitat zones are distinguished. These include the shallow high-energy wave zone exposing unvegetated rocks to the low-energy deeper basins characterized by muddy sediments and the typical biota including ophiuroids, ascidians, sponges, sea pens. The results allow to subdivide the Potter Cove into a “dynamic zone” (DZ) with rocks and mixed fine sediments covering the inner cove, a large transition zone that we call the “subrecent zone” (SZ) buried under fine meltwater sediments and the “quasi persistent zone” (QPZ) that reveals more mature conditions in many aspects further downfjord. These zones represent development stages resulting from the increasing distance to and decreasing influence of the glacier front. The DZ is trailing directly behind the retreating glacier front. As long as there is strong discharge of sediment-loaded meltwater the DZ transitions into the SZ after a period of time (under recent conditions: decades) which itself transitions into the QPZ after centuries. We assume that during the Medieval Warm Period (c. AD 800-1350) the glacier terminus was at or even behind its present position. Until the maximum of the Little Ice Age the glacier advanced to form a prominent moraine complex. Ever since the glacier retreated at increasing speed to its recent position. If the warming trend continues the glacier will retreat further away from the fjord head and the QPZ will likely cover the entire fjord after several centuries.

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AGU Fall Meeting, 15 Dec 2014 - 19 Dec 2014, San Francisco.
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Hass, H. C. , Wölfl, A. C. , Wittenberg, N. , Betzler, C. and Kuhn, G. (2014): Environmental evolution of a small Antarctic fjord through the recent past , AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, 15 December 2014 - 19 December 2014 .

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