Project Information
Quantifying surface area in muds from the Antarctic Dry Valleys: Implications for weathering in glacial systems
Short Title:
Weathering in Antarctic Dry Valleys
Start Date:
End Date:
As glaciers creep across the landscape, they can act as earthmovers, plucking up rocks and grinding them into fine sediments. Glaciers have moved across the Antarctic landscape over thousands to millions of years, leaving these ground-up sediments in their wake. This study builds on pilot discoveries by the investigators that revealed remarkably large and variable measurements of surface area in glacially-derived fine-grained sediments found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV), one of the few landscapes on the Antarctic continent not currently covered by ice. Surface area is key to chemical weathering, the process by which rock is converted to soils as ions are carried away in streams and groundwater. These chemical weathering processes are also one of the primary means by which the Earth system naturally removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Hence, high surface areas observed in sediments implies high "weatherability" which in turn translates to more potential carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. Therefore, chemical weathering in high surface area glacial sediments may have significant impacts on Earth's carbon cycle. The researchers will measure the chemical and physical properties of sediments previously collected from the Dry Valleys to understand what factors lead to production of sediment with high-surface area and potential "weather ability" and investigate how sediment produced in these glacial systems could ultimately impact Earth's carbon budget. Results from this research will help scientists (including modelers) refine predictions of the effects of melting glaciers- and attendant exposure of glacial sediment? on atmospheric carbon levels. These results may also contribute to applied research efforts on development of carbon-dioxide removal technologies utilizing principles of rock weathering. In addition to the scientific benefits, this research will involve several students at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral levels, including science education undergraduates, thus contributing to training of the next-generation STEM workforce. Physical weathering produces fresh surfaces, greatly enhancing specific surface area (SSA) and reactive surface area (RSA) of primary minerals. Quantifying SSA and RSA of sediments is key to determining dissolution and leaching rates during natural weathering, but few data exist on distribution of sediment SA, particularly in glacial and fluvial systems. Pilot data from glacial stream systems in Taylor Valley and Wright Valley (located in the MDV) exhibit remarkably high and variable values in both SSA and RSA, values that in some cases greatly exceed values from muds in temperate glacial systems. This discovery motivates the current research, which aims to investigate the hypothesis that high and variable SAs of muds within Wright and Taylor Valleys reflect textural and/or compositional inheritance from the differing depositional settings within the MDV, biologic controls, dust additions, and/or pedogenic processes. These hypotheses will be tested by sedimentologically, mineralogically, and geochemically characterizing muds from glacially derived sediment deposited in various environments (cold vs. wet based glaciation; fluvial, lacustrine, dust, and drift deposits) and of varying age (Miocene to Modern) from the MDV and quantifying variation of SA and reactivity. Comparisons with analyzed muds from temperate glacial systems will enable polar-temperate comparisons. Analyses will focus on muds of previously collected sediment from the MDVs. Grain size and SSA will be measured by Laser Analysis and N2 adsorption BET, respectively. After carbonate removal, samples will be re-analyzed for SSA, and muds characterized geochemically. Mineralogy and bulk chemistry will also be assessed on co-occurring sand fractions, and textural attributes documented. SSA-normalized dissolution experiments will be used to compare solutes released from sediments to determine RSAs. Results will be integrated with the various sedimentologic and geochemical analyses to test the posed hypotheses. Ultimately, this research should shed light on how weathering in Antarctic systems contributes to global carbon cycling.
Person Role
Soreghan, Gerilyn Investigator and contact
Elwood Madden, Megan Co-Investigator
Demirel, Cansu Researcher
Antarctic Earth Sciences Award # 1543344
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
0 (raw data)
  1. Webb, N. D. S., Regmi, N. R., Soreghan, G., Elwood Madden, A. S., Sylvester, J., Cartagena Colon, F., … Elwood Madden, M. E. (2021). Effects of mass wasting on fluvial sediments in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. (doi:10.1002/essoar.10508575.1)
  2. Demirel‐Floyd, C., Soreghan, G. S., & Madden, M. E. E. (2021). Cyanobacterial weathering in warming periglacial sediments: Implications for nutrient cycling and potential biosignatures. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes. (doi:10.1002/ppp.2133)
Platforms and Instruments

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