Cryptic Hydrology of the McMurdo Dry Valleys: Water Track Contributions to Water and Geochemical Budgets in Taylor Valley, Antarctica
The PIs propose to quantify the hillslope water, solute, and carbon budgets for Taylor Valley in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, using water tracks to investigate near-surface geological processes and challenge the paradigm that shallow groundwater is minimal or non-exixtant. Water tracks are linear zones of high soil moisture that route shallow groundwater downslope in permafrost dominated soils. Four hypotheses will be tested: 1) water tracks are important pathways for water and solute transport; 2) water tracks transport more dissolved silica than streams in Taylor Valley indicating they are the primary site of chemical weathering for cold desert soils and bedrock; 3) water tracks that drain highland terrains are dominated by humidity-separated brines while water tracks that drain lowland terrains are dominated by marine aerosols; 4) water tracks are the sites of the highest terrestrial soil carbon concentrations and the strongest CO2 fluxes in Taylor Valley and their carbon content increases with soil age, while carbon flux decreases with age. To test these hypotheses the PIs will carry out a suite of field measurements supported by modeling and remote sensing. They will install shallow permafrost wells in water tracks that span the range of geological, climatological, and topographic conditions in Taylor Valley. Multifrequency electromagnetic induction sounding of the upper ~1 m of the permafrost will create the first comprehensive map of soil moisture in Taylor Valley, and will permit direct quantification of water track discharge across the valley. The carbon contents of water track soils will be measured and linked to global carbon dynamics.
Non-science majors at Oregon State University will be integrated into the proposed research through a new Global Environmental Change course focusing on the scientific method in Antarctica. Three undergraduate students, members of underrepresented minorities, will be entrained in the research, will contribute to all aspects of field and laboratory science, and will present results at national meetings.
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