Volcanogenic fluxes of iron from the seafloor in the Amundsen Sea, West Antarctica

The Amundsen Sea in the Pacific sector of West Antarctica receives meltwater from the fastest retreating Antarctic glaciers, and its coastal polynyas host the highest primary productivity per unit area observed on the Antarctic continental shelf. Polynya productivity provides the base for a robust, diverse ecosystem and is controlled primarily by light and the availability of the micronutrient iron (Fe). While the sources of Fe in the region are not yet certain, Fe could be transported within modified Circumpolar Deep Water (mCDW) that intrudes onto the retrograde shelf and into ice shelf cavities, where it gains buoyancy through the addition of glacial meltwater and is injected into the upper water column when it exits the cavity. Thus, fluxes of dissolved Fe from the seafloor into in-flowing mCDW may ultimately be a source of Fe to the euphotic zone in the Amundsen Sea. To investigate the surface sediment biogeochemistry and the potential for a significant benthic flux of Fe to the waters on the Amundsen Sea shelf, sediment cores were collected at two sites close to the calving fronts of the Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier ice shelves. Pore water was analyzed for trace element content, and sediment was analyzed for physical and chemical properties including organic carbon and trace elements. Using a novel approach based on hypothesized Fe speciation and colloidal particle radius, theoretical Fe fluxes were calculated from pore water gradients and porosity. The fluxes reveal a spatially variable Fe input to the lower water column that could ultimately fertilize primary productivity. Supported by geochemical and physical evidence, we conclude that submarine weathering of volcanic glass grains observed and quantified in seabed sediments at the Pine Island site drives nonreductive Fe fluxes that are 100-fold higher than at the Thwaites site. This study highlights the need for further investigations of benthic-pelagic coupling in the Amundsen Sea region, which will likely be impacted in coming decades by accelerating glacial melting.


Publication status:
Authors: Herbert, Lisa C., Lepp, Allison P., Garcia, Santiago Munevar, Browning, Arianne, Miller, Lauren E., Wellner, Julia, Severmann, Silke, Hillenbrand, Claus-Dieter ORCIDORCID record for Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Johnson, Joanne S. ORCIDORCID record for Joanne S. Johnson, Sherrell, Robert M.

On this site: Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Joanne Johnson
20 June, 2023
Marine Chemistry / 253
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