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Glacial burial and decomposition of ancient organic carbon: a scientific expedition to King George Island, Antarctica

July 27, 2010  |   Research Library   |   admin  |   0 Comment

Glacial burial and decomposition of ancient organic carbon: a scientific expedition to King George Island, Antarctica

Prepared by Ning Zeng (Project Scientist), Associate Professor, University of Maryland, College Park Jay Gregg, Junior Scientist, University of Maryland, College Park Email contact: zeng@atmos.umd.edu Abstract An expedition to King George Island (KGI), Antarctica was conducted during January, 2010. The main goal was to search for ancient organic carbon buried under ice and to understand the role of such organic carbon in glacial-interglacial CO2 and climate changes. Three trips were taken to study the periglacial environment of the Collins Glacier (Bellingshausen Dome) on the southern edge of the KGI icecap. A glacial moraine was found to contain a large quantity of organic carbon. An outcrop was found to contain several clearly distinguishable layers: rubble, soil, moss, soil, shell, moss, muddy soil, and ice. The surrounding area and the glacial outwash downstream contain large amounts of organic material. CO2 fluxes were measured at two locations using a LICOR-8100 soil CO2 analyzer, with soil CO2 fluxes ranging 15-20ppmv/30min (0.15 mmol m-2 sec-1). Because there was no observable new vegetation growth on the site, and because the chamber where the flux was measured was dark (preventing photosynthesis), it appears that the CO2 was the result of the decomposition of the organic carbon that was once buried under ice. ...

Antarctic Peninsula Project Report

July 10, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   1 Comment

Antarctic Peninsula Project Report

Antarctic Peninsula Project Report:  January 12 – 30, 2010 Thanks to a generous grant from the Kane Lodge Foundation, WRF launched its initial project on January 12, 2010.  The participants included: Ning Zeng, PhD, Principal Investigator; Jay S. Gregg, PhD, Research Assistant; and Sheldon Bart, Project Manager. The team traveled to King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, situated just off the Antarctic Peninsula.  Their objective was to seek physical evidence to corroborate a new conception of the carbon cycle advanced by Dr. Zeng.  An associate professor at the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science and the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center of the University of Maryland, Dr. Zeng’s research focus is the interaction between the biosphere and the atmosphere, and the implications for unraveling the riddles of climate dynamics.  He has published a series of papers developing a new theory of the relationship between the carbon cycle and ice-age cycles.  Dr. Zeng suggests that carbon becomes concentrated in the ground as glaciers advance over soil and vegetation, and slowly diffuses into the atmosphere when glaciers recede, accounting for a significant amount of the build-up of carbon dioxide in interglacial eras.  The team was equipped with a LI-8100 Automated ...

Mysteries of the Sauna

January 25, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

Mysteries of the Sauna

Les Werner has made e-mail contact with a woman at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  She, in turn, referred him to a USDA bureaucrat one level up.  The soil import permit drama continues, with Les vowing to e-mail APHIS everyday, if necessary.  Theoretically, the samples could be mailed to the U.S. from Punta Arenas.  But, in addition to the permit, mailing labels first have to be received from USDA and placed on the package containing the samples.  Our back-up plan is for Edgar, the English-speaking manager of Hostal Bustamente, to take charge of the samples and the mailing if the labels fail to arrive before Les leaves Punta Arenas on the 29th, the day most of us are scheduled to board our departing flights for home. One day, I may write a polar thriller having to do with missing samples.  I hope it will be only fiction.  Meanwhile, the storm that blew in Saturday night blew the overcast out to sea.  Sunday was a cloudless day of sunshine and the first blue skies we had seen in the Antarctic.  We were told that multiple flights from Punta Arenas and back would be made ...

Plastic Bags Filled With Gunk

January 23, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

Plastic Bags Filled With Gunk

Bulat, the glacier man, told me that summer on King George Island is always bright and sunny, but there's usually one week of rain and overcast skies.  We landed just in time for that gray week.  The windows of our hut yesterday morning showed so little visibility it didn't seem as if we could get out in the field.  But it wasn't at all forbidding once we hit the trail.  Ning, Jay and I, with Lindsay as broadcast journalist, set out once again with the LI-COR disassembled in our packs.  Our destination this time was the eastern sweep of the moraine, the area to which Bulat had guided Ning and Jay the day I had kitchen duty. The path to the east took us to the shore of the Uruguayan station, which is conveniently situated at the foot of the glacier.  The President of Uruguay had visited the station a day or so earlier.  In her honor one of the buildings had been freshly painted blue and yellow, and the smell of the paint was in the air and in our nostrils.  It nevertheless turned out to be a lovely hike.  As we passed the Uruguayan compound and followed the eastern ...

Faux Pas

January 21, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   1 Comment

Faux Pas

Color matters in the Antarctic.  Stream of melt water and rain water spill over on some parts of the trail, and you can tramp through them, the water coming up to your ankles.  You notice pools of blue water in various spots, and you learn not to walk on them.  Blue is the color of young ice that is not yet firm.  It will give way under you, and you will sink.  Within a day or so, the blue turns to gray.  The ice has now firmed up enough so that you can walk on it without sinking. The worse part of the trail is the mud.  You can suddenly find yourself in its clutches, and you're stuck to the knees.  In the muddy stretches, I try to find rocks to step on.  The more rocks the better.  So my eyes were scanning for the less soupy places to tread on as we headed for the western part of the moraine with our $20,000 LI-COR machine.  The Automated Soil Flux System detects carbon.  It consists of a small yellow valise with the controls and the microcircuitry, and a large funnel-shaped object that looks something like a lampshade.  Ning, Jay and I ...

Geology Heaven

January 20, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

Geology Heaven

Alejo Contreras, the first Chilean explorer to ski to the South Pole, has a beard a foot long (in the shape of an inverted "v").   He was, I believe, the first climber of any nationality to scale the Ellsworth Mountains (a range discovered by Lincoln Ellsworth.)  He knew Norman Vaughan, the last surviving member of the first Byrd Antarctic Expedition.  If I got the story correctly, Alejo helped Vaughan, then in his 90s, climb the south polar mountain that Admiral Byrd named for Norman.  Alejo works in logistics at the nearby Chilean station and considers anyone who comes to Antarctica to be a member of his family.  He also dabbles in science.  He invited me into a little hilltop hut next door to ours where he's conducting a solar energy demonstration project.  Inside, dozens of heavy-duty batteries were being energized from solar panels outside.  "We're showing the world," he said, with a crusader's enthusiasm, "that you can have electricity and power, same like you have now, from the sun!" In the meantime, Bellingshausen Station is powered by generators running 24/7 in a gray metal building well back of the admin building and the mess hall.  That's also where the showers are.  ...

Just A Taste

January 19, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

Just A Taste

The foot of the glacier looks like the bottom of an ordinary snow-covered hill.  But when you brush some of the snow away with the toe of your boot, you see ice underneath.  Two additional facts:  The glacier should more properly be called an icecap, and it has a mezzanine.  If you're standing at the foot and you look up, you see a brown strata.  That's a moraine—a pile of sedimentary trash the glacier has picked up in its retreat.  Further up the slope the landmarks slip away.  The result is one of the most remarkable sights I've ever seen: sheer whiteness.  Endless whiteness joined seamlessly to an overcast sky.  A whiteness without direction.  A whiteness that could swallow up New York. Eleven of us, wearing variously colored Gore-Tex shells with layers of insulation underneath, penetrated the whiteness following a glaciologist named Bulat on his rounds.  Bulat is a tall, pleasant man who looks like Steve Allen, but with shorter hair and wire-rim glasses instead of horn rims.  He wore an orange shell, the better to seen against a white background.  He has established 30 observation points at 100-meter intervals in the whiteness.  Each is marked by a long stick protruding ...

The Glacial Road

January 17, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

The Glacial Road

Some notes on Antarctic etiquette: Every building in every compound has inner and outer doors, with a small vestibule in between.  One is asked to remove one's outdoor footwear before entering a building, a necessary procedure to avoid messing the floors.  The same rule holds in the Arctic.  Boots are stored in the vestibule.  The Russians, being smart as well as hospitable, place a large tub of water and a brush outside the building entrances so that surface muck can be removed even before entering the vestibule.  This is a reasonable procedure, though it can be tiresome if you're walking out of one building and into another 20 feet away. One is asked to use as little toilet paper as possible. One is asked not to flush the toiler paper, but to dump it in a large, covered can beside the commode. One is asked not to walk on the vegetation (lichens). One is asked to keep one's distance from wildlife. Wildlife are not required to keep their distance from people.  A skua gull followed me around today and, when I wasn't looking, snatched the wool cap off my head, but was good enough to let me retrieve it. Some notes on Antarctic footwear: I'm becoming convinced that ...

Bellingshausen

January 16, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

Bellingshausen

The interior of a C-130 Hercules transport looks like a well-lit section of a subway tunnel to which, on the outside, wings have been attached.  Luggage and boxes of supplies were piled up and tied down aft.  The main area of the flight cabin was divided in half lengthwise.  Twenty-four people were seated in each half, 12 passengers facing 12 passengers.  Our group was seated along the starboard half, cramped but happy.  A large contingent of Koreans were seated on the port side.  Cables ran lengthwise above our head, which you could grab for support if you wanted to undo your seat beat and could squiggle to a standing position.  I imagine paratroopers used the cable to hook up their jump cords. The plane was painted camo green and along the exterior ran the words: Fuerza Aereal Uruguayo.  We arrived at the airport at around 11:30 AM, our second trip of the day.  The flight was originally scheduled for 8 AM, with our wake-up call at 5 AM.  Vans came for our luggage by 6, and a bus came for us.  But when we got to the airport, we were told that weather conditions on King George Island were as yet ...

A Day Away

January 15, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

A Day Away

Anticipating a late afternoon flight to King George Island, most of the group went out for a quick lunch.  But some of us were too keyed up to be hungry.  The University of Maryland´s Jay Gregg stood guard over the laptops the scientists had left in the dining room of the hostal.  Les Werner, the Wisconsin professor, was seated on the floor of my room, leaning against a thicket of backpacks and watching Million Dollar Baby—the Clint Eastward film—on an Ipod.  We had paid our bill and moved all of our luggage into my room (the triple) so that the hostal could rent out the rooms the rest of the group had abandoned.  I was sprawled on my bed, working on one of the two lectures I had committed to giving at Bellingshausen station.  My topics were the ¨History of Scientific Exploration in Antarctica" and "Raising Money for Science." The innkeeper suddenly and sheepishly entered, announcing a phone call for us.  The aircraft had flown out a group of scientists and visitors to King George earlier in the morning, but was delayed on the island for some reason and would not arrive back in Punta Arenas in time for a second ...