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Revista chilena de historia natural

Print version ISSN 0716-078X


MACDONELL, SHELLEY A  and  FITZSIMONS, SEAN J. Observations of cryoconite hole system processes on an Antarctic glacier. Rev. chil. hist. nat. [online]. 2012, vol.85, n.4, pp.393-407. ISSN 0716-078X.

Cryoconite holes are water-filled depressions that form on glacier surfaces when uneven distributions of sediment cause differential melting to occur. Cryoconite holes are important features of cold glacier systems, as they enhance meltwater generation, enable the development of complex drainage networks and facilitate the growth of microbial communities on the glacier surface. This paper describes the development of a cryoconite hole hydrological network on an Antarctic glacier, and explores the implications for nutrient storage and delivery within the glacier system. Field measurements included measuring the internal dimensions and repeat mapping of cryoconite holes across the glacier surface, and laboratory analysis included cation and anion analysis on clean ice and cryoconite hole samples. Results showed the distribution of cryoconite holes was determined by surface topography and local ablation rates. Planar surfaces are characterised by the highest density of cryoconite holes. Cryoconite holes are rare within supraglacial channels and surfaces with high ablation rates. The negative correlation between cryoconite hole density and ablation rate means that the glacier surface need to be relatively stable in order for the cryoconite hole to develop and persist. Furthermore, cryoconite holes are likely to contribute up to 1/3 of the meltwater generated on planar surfaces, however not all of this water is stored in the holes. Water may be drained via channels, cracks and intergranular drainage, however the relative importance of each is not yet known. As cryconite holes are relatively nutrient rich compared with clean glacier ice, the nature of connections between cryoconite holes are important for determining nutrient delivery both across the glacier, and to the proglacial region.

Keywords : biogeochemistry; drainage system; glacier hydrology; meltwater; solute.

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