Groundwater discharge to the western Antarctic coastal ocean

  • Kimberly A. Null Institute for Coastal Science and Policy, East Carolina University
  • D. Reide Corbett Institute for Coastal Science and Policy; Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University
  • Jared Crenshaw Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University
  • Richard N. Peterson Department of Coastal and Marine Systems Science, Coastal Carolina University
  • Leigha E. Peterson Department of Coastal and Marine Systems Science, Coastal Carolina University
  • W. Berry Lyons Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, Ohio State University
Keywords: Groundwater, subglacial meltwater, western Antarctic Peninsula, radium


Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) measurements have been limited along the Antarctic coast, although groundwater discharge is becoming recognized as an important process in the Antarctic. Quantifying this meltwater pathway is important for hydrologic budgets, ice mass balances and solute delivery to the coastal ocean. Here, we estimate the combined discharge of subglacial and submarine groundwater to the Antarctic coastal ocean. SGD, including subglacial and submarine groundwater, is quantified along the WAP at the Marr Glacier terminus using the activities of naturally occurring radium isotopes (223Ra, 224Ra). Estimated SGD fluxes from a 224Ra mass balance ranged from (0.41 ± 0.14)×104 and (8.2 ± 2.3)×104m3 d−1. Using a salinity mass balance, we estimate SGD contributes up to 32% of the total freshwater to the coastal environment near Palmer Station. This study suggests that a large portion of the melting glacier may be infiltrating into the bedrock and being discharged to coastal waters along the WAP. Meltwater infiltrating as groundwater at glacier termini is an important solute delivery mechanism to the nearshore environment that can influence biological productivity. More importantly, quantifying this meltwater pathway may be worthy of attention when predicting future impacts of climate change on retreat of tidewater glaciers.


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How to Cite
Null, K., Corbett, D. R., Crenshaw, J., Peterson, R., Peterson, L., & Lyons, W. B. (2019). Groundwater discharge to the western Antarctic coastal ocean. Polar Research, 38.
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