Project Information
Measuring Dissolved Gases to Reveal the Processes that Drive the Solubility Pump and Determine Gas Concentration in Antarctic Bottom Water
Short Title:
Measuring Noble Gases During PIPERS
Start Date:
End Date:
Near the Antarctic coast, polynyas are open-water regions where extreme heat loss in winter causes seawater to become cold, salty, and dense enough to sink into the deep sea. The formation of this dense water has regional and global importance because it influences the ocean current system. Polynya processes are also tied to the amount of sea ice formed, ocean heat lost to atmosphere, and atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the Southern Ocean. Unfortunately, the ocean-atmosphere interactions that influence the deep ocean water properties are difficult to observe directly during the Antarctic winter. This project will combine field measurements and laboratory experiments to investigate whether differences in the concentration of noble gasses (helium, neon, argon, xenon, and krypton) dissolved in ocean waters can be linked to environmental conditions at the time of their formation. If so, noble gas concentrations could provide insight into the mechanisms controlling shelf and bottom-water properties, and be used to reconstruct past climate conditions. Project results will contribute to the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) theme of The Future and Consequences of Carbon Uptake in the Southern Ocean. The project will also train undergraduate and graduate students in environmental monitoring, and earth and ocean sciences methods.

Understanding the causal links between Antarctic coastal processes and changes in the deep ocean system requires study of winter polynya processes. The winter period of intense ocean heat loss and sea ice production impacts two important Antarctic water masses: High-Salinity Shelf Water (HSSW), and Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW), which then influence the strength of the ocean solubility pump and meridional overturning circulation. To better characterize how sea ice cover, ocean-atmosphere exchange, brine rejection, and glacial melt influence the physical properties of AABW and HSSW, this project will analyze samples and data collected from two Ross Sea polynyas during the 2017 PIPERS winter cruise. Gas concentrations will be measured in seawater samples collected by a CTD rosette, from an underwater mass-spectrometer, and from a benchtop Membrane Inlet Mass Spectrometer. Noble gas concentrations will reveal the ocean-atmosphere (dis)equilibrium that exists at the time that surface water is transformed into HSSW and AABW, and provide a fingerprint of past conditions. In addition, nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), argon, and CO2 concentration will be used to determine the net metabolic balance, and to evaluate the efficacy of N2 as an alternative to O2 as glacial meltwater tracer. Laboratory experiments will determine the gas partitioning ratios during sea ice formation. Findings will be synthesized with PIPERS and related projects, and so provide an integrated view of the role of the wintertime Antarctic coastal system on deep water composition.

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.
Person Role
Loose, Brice Investigator and contact
Antarctic Integrated System Science Award # 1744562
Antarctic Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Award # 1744562
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Deployment Type
NBP1704 ship expedition
Data Management Plan
Product Level:
1 (processed data)
Repository Title (link) Format(s) Status
USAP-DC PIPERS Noble Gases CSV exists
MGDS Expedition Data of NBP1704 Not Provided exists
R2R NBP1704 Expedition Data Not Provided exist
  1. Thompson, L., Smith, M., Thomson, J., Stammerjohn, S., Ackley, S., & Loose, B. (2020). Frazil ice growth and production during katabatic wind events in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. The Cryosphere, 14(10), 3329–3347. (doi:10.5194/tc-14-3329-2020)
Platforms and Instruments

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