Variability in the freshwater balance of northern Marguerite Bay, Antarctic Peninsula: results from δ18O


Michael P. Meredith1, Mark A. Brandon2, Margaret I. Wallace1, Andrew Clarke1, Melanie J. Leng3, Ian A. Renfrew4, Nicole van Lipzig5, John C. King1


1British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, U.K.

2Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, U.K.

3NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, British Geological Survey, Keyworth, U.K.

4School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K.

5Meteorological Institute, University of Munich, Germany




We investigate the seasonal variability in freshwater inputs to the Marguerite Bay region (Western Antarctic Peninsula) using a time series of oxygen isotopes in seawater from samples collected in the upper mixed layer of the ocean during 2002 and 2003. We find that meteoric water, mostly in the form of glacial ice melt, is the dominant freshwater source, accounting for up to 5% of the near-surface ocean during the austral summer. Sea ice melt accounts for a much smaller percentage, even during the summer (maximum around 1%). The seasonality in meteoric water input to the ocean (around 2% of the near-surface ocean) is not dissimilar to that of sea ice melt (around 2% in 2002 and 1% in 2003), contradicting the assumption that sea ice processes dominate the seasonal evolution of the physical ocean environment close to the Antarctic continent. Three full-depth profiles of oxygen isotopes collected in successive Decembers (2001, 2002 and 2003) indicate that around 4 m of meteoric water is present in the water column at this time of year, and around 1 m of sea ice formed from this same water column. The predominance of glacial melt is significant, since it is known to be an important factor in the operation of the ecosystem, for example by providing a source of nutrients and modifying the physical environment to control the spatial extent and magnitude of phytoplankton blooms.

The Western Antarctic Peninsula is undergoing a very rapid change in climate, with increasing ocean and air temperatures, retreating glaciers and increases in precipitation associated with changes in atmospheric circulation. As climate change continues, we expect meteoric water inputs to the adjacent ocean to rise further. Sea ice in this sector of the Antarctic has shown a climatic decrease, thus we expect a reduction in oceanic sea ice melt fractions if this change continues. Continued monitoring of the oceanic freshwater budget at the western Peninsula is needed to track these changes as they occur, and to better understand their ecological consequences.





11/06/06:  Received U.S. GLOBEC contribution number; number added to final version.