BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


Understanding Ice Loss in Earth’s Coldest Regions: Melting Under the Antarctic Ice Sheet’s Skin
Published: April 01, 2014
Posted: September 22, 2014

A puzzle for Antarctic ice sheet change has been to understand how ice melts in places where surface conditions are too cold for ice to melt. A team of scientists, including a Department of Energy-supported researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has studied this problem using ice models. Their field location is the McMurdo Dry Valley glaciers of Antarctica, where summer temperatures never rise far above the melting threshold. Active melting is rarely observed, yet runoff from these glaciers is the primary source of water to streams, lakes and associated ecosystems in the valleys, which are among the coldest and driest ecosystems on Earth. The processes generating melt under these marginal conditions are not well understood, and traditional melt modeling techniques are inadequate to explain the observed runoff from these glaciers.

The team investigated two processes: 1) penetration of solar radiation into the ice, and 2) drainage of subsurface melt from the ice, as well as their roles in generating runoff from Dry Valley glaciers. The researchers successively added these processes to an energy balance model and applied the model to three glacier sites using 13 years of hourly meteorological data. Model results show that inclusion of both processes is necessary to accurately model ice loss, ice density, and ice temperature on these glaciers. Melt on the glacier surface is rare, but internal melting 5-15 cm below the ice surface is extensive, and its drainage accounts for ~50% of all summer ice loss. This finding is consistent with field observations of subsurface streams and formation of a weathering crust. The team identified an annual cycle of weathering crust formation in summer and its removal during the 10 months of winter sublimation. Due to the complexities of ice melt at air temperatures close to the melting temperature, these glaciers will respond differently to changes in climate than glaciers in warmer climates. This behavior also will apply to other glaciers at very high latitudes and elevations and many extraterrestrial glaciers such as those on Mars.

Reference: Hoffman, M. J., A. G. Fountain, and G. E. Liston. 2014. “Near-Surface Internal Melting: A Substantial Mass Loss on Antarctic Dry Valley Glaciers,” Journal of Glaciology 60(220), 361-74. DOI:10.3189/2014JoG13J095. (Reference link)

Contact: Dorothy Koch, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0105
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER

 

BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco
Objectives

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)