Accelerated thermokarst formation in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

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TitleAccelerated thermokarst formation in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsLevy, JS, Fountain, AG, Dickson, JL, Head, JW, Okal, M, Marchant, DR, Watters, J
JournalScientific Reports
Date Published07/2013

Thermokarst is a land surface lowered and disrupted by melting ground ice. Thermokarst is a major driver of landscape change in the Arctic, but has been considered to be a minor process in Antarctica. Here, we use ground-based and airborne LiDAR coupled with timelapse imaging and meteorological data to show that 1) thermokarst formation has accelerated in Garwood Valley, Antarctica; 2) the rate of thermokarst erosion is presently ~ 10 times the average Holocene rate; and 3) the increased rate of thermokarst formation is driven most strongly by increasing insolation and sediment/albedo feedbacks. This suggests that sediment enhancement of insolation-driven melting may act similarly to expected increases in Antarctic air temperature (presently occurring along the Antarctic Peninsula), and may serve as a leading indicator of imminent landscape change in Antarctica that will generate thermokarst landforms similar to those in Arctic periglacial terrains.