Collaborative Research: Reconstructing Late Holocene Ecosystem and Climate Shifts from Peat Records in the Western Antarctic Peninsula
Peat records western Antarctic Peninsula
Warming on the western Antarctic Peninsula in the later 20th century has caused widespread changes in the cryosphere (ice and snow) and terrestrial ecosystems. These recent changes along with longer-term climate and ecosystem histories will be deciphered using peat deposits. Peat accumulation can be used to assess the rate of glacial retreat and provide insight into ecological processes on newly deglaciated landscapes in the Antarctic Peninsula. This project builds on data suggesting recent ecosystem transformations that are linked to past climate of the western Antarctic Peninsula and provide a timeline to assess the extent and rate of recent glacial change. The study will produce a climate record for the coastal low-elevation terrestrial region, which will refine the major climate shifts of up to 6 degrees C in the recent past (last 12,000 years). A novel terrestrial record of the recent glacial history will provide insight into observed changes in climate and sea-ice dynamics in the western Antarctic Peninsula and allow for comparison with off-shore climate records captured in sediments. Observations and discoveries from this project will be disseminated to local schools and science centers. The project provides training and career development for a postdoctoral scientist as well as graduate and undergraduate students.
The research presents a new systematic survey to reconstruct ecosystem and climate change for the coastal low-elevation areas on the western Antarctic Peninsula (AP) using proxy records preserved in late Holocene peat deposits. Moss and peat samples will be collected and analyzed to generate a comprehensive data set of late-Holocene climate change and ecosystem dynamics. The goal is to document and understand the transformations of landscape and terrestrial ecosystems on the western AP during the late Holocene. The testable hypothesis is that coastal regions have experienced greater climate variability than evidenced in ice-core records and that past warmth has facilitated dramatic ecosystem and cryosphere response. A primary product of the project is a robust reconstruction of late Holocene climate changes for coastal low-elevation terrestrial areas using multiple lines of evidence from peat-based biological and geochemical proxies, which will be used to compare with climate records derived from marine sediments and ice cores from the AP region. These data will be used to test several ideas related to novel peat-forming ecosystems (such as Antarctic hairgrass bogs) in past warmer climates and climate controls over ecosystem establishment and migration to help assess the nature of the Little Ice Age cooling and cryosphere response. The chronology of peat cores will be established by radiocarbon dating of macrofossils and Bayesian modeling. The high-resolution time series of ecosystem and climate changes will help put the observed recent changes into a long-term context to bridge climate dynamics over different time scales.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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