2015-2016 Science Planning Summaries
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2015-2016 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Origin and climatic significance of rock glaciers in the McMurdo Dry Valleys: Assessing spatial and temporal variability

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Event Number:

Program Manager:
Dr. Thomas Wilch

ASC POC/Implementer:
Sune Tamm / Bija Sass

Principal Investigator

Dr. Kate Swanger

University of Massachusetts
Lowell, Massachusetts

Project Web Site:
http://faculty.uml.edu/Kate_Swanger/KS/Research.html External Web Site


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: Dry Valleys


Rock glaciers are common in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, but they are concentrated in a few isolated regions: western Taylor Valley, western Wright Valley, Pearse Valley, and Bull Pass. The researchers hypothesize that the origin and age of these features varies by region; that rock glaciers in Pearse and Taylor Valleys originated as buried glacier ice, whereas rock glaciers in Wright Valley formed through permafrost processes, such as mobilization of ice-rich talus. These hypotheses are born out of previous research demonstrating regional-scale variability in the sediment-ice ratio of rock-glacier cores and stratigraphic relationships between rock glaciers and alpine glaciers. To address these hypotheses, the researchers propose to: (1) Develop relative and absolute chronologies for the studied rock glaciers (through file mapping and optically stimulated luminescence dating of overlying sediments); (2) Assess the origin of clean-ice cores through stable isotopic analyses; (3) Determine if present-day soil-moisture and temperature conditions are conducive to rock glacier formation/preservation, and (4) Investigate whether the hypothesized glacigenic rock glaciers are in equilibrium with present-day climate. To achieve these research goals, researchers will incorporate geomorphic mapping, sedimentology, geochemical analyses, and geophysical techniques.

Field Season Overview

During the 2015–16 final field season, five participants will deploy to Antarctica to conduct helicopter-supported fieldwork at five main sites in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV). A sixth participant will be a field coordinator from Field Support and Training (FST). During the first part of the season, three participants will operate out of two camps. They will extract shallow ice cores from buried ice in Taylor and Pearse valleys. The focus of these camps will be to complete the ice coring while the weather is still cool. This first part of the field season will require increased helicopter support to transport the cores back to McMurdo. Duing the final three weeks of the season, or the second half of the project, the team of five will camp in the Wright and Taylor Valleys. They will gather sediment and water samples for geochemical analyses, will deploy and retrieve meteorological stations, and will conduct ground-penetrating radar scans and mapping. As per previous field seasons, they will also be supported with tent-camping gear, communications equipment, and temporary office space in Crary Lab.

Deploying Team Members

  • Esther Babcock
  • James Dickson
  • Kate Swanger (PI)
  • Rachel Valletta
  • Kelsey Winsor