Developmental History of an Intriguing Peat-Forming Community Along the West Antarctic Peninsula

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Julie Loisel, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States, Zicheng Yu, Lehigh University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Bethlehem, PA, United States, Dave Beilman, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Geography, Honolulu, HI, United States and Karl Kaiser, Texas A&M University at Galveston, Galveston, TX, United States
Permafrost peatbanks along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) have become valuable high-resolution archives for late-Holocene climatic conditions recently. We recently observed and studied a few water-saturated peatlands that had formed in rocky depressions near Vernadsky Station and in mainland Antarctica (~ 65°S, 64°W). Remarkably, we seem to be the very first ones to analyze these systems for environmental reconstructions. The similarity between these peatlands and fens from the lower latitudes is striking, and the rarity of these systems along the WAP is intriguing.

We present a high-resolution, multi-proxy record of ecosystem development and paleoenvironmental conditions for Rasmussen peatland. The ecosystem is ~100 m2 in size and is characterized by a shallow water table depth at 7 cm below the surface. Surface vegetation is dominated by Calliergon spp., a wet-adapted moss found along the WAP. The studied moss deposit is 50 cm thick and has a high organic matter content (> 90% dry weight). Plant macrofossil analysis reveals that the peatland was initially a wet Sanionia spp. carpet and that a sharp transition to Calliergon spp. occurred about half way through the deposit. A distinct layer of highly decomposed organic matter was observed from 32 to 40 cm and could indicate a period of slowed peat formation, potentially due to dry conditions (enhanced peat decay) or perennial snow cover (limited plant growth). Biochemical decomposition indicators such as carbohydrate yields, acid:aldehyde ratios of lignin phenols, and hydroxyproline yields are being determined to better understand the extent of peat decay that has occurred at this site throughout its development, particularly to further address the nature of the observed stratigraphic changes. Preliminary results indicate that carbohydrate yields of the bottom half of the core are about 1/3 smaller than those of the top half, indicating substantial carbon loss due to decomposition. Overall, these peatlands may represent a transition from wet and thin Sanionia carpets to waterlogged peatlands, which would be an important ecosystem transformation along the WAP that could be promoted in a warmer and wetter climate.