Response of Peat-forming Ecosystems of the Western Antarctic Peninsula to Recent Climate Change

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 8:45 AM
Mary Tardona1, Dave Beilman1, Zicheng Yu2 and Julie Loisel3, (1)University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States, (2)Lehigh University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Bethlehem, PA, United States, (3)University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Amplified warming and related environmental changes in the high latitudes have a complex geographic pattern, with the Western Antarctic Peninsula experiencing one of the fastest rates of recent warming globally. To better understand the response of terrestrial Antarctic ecosystems to polar change, we applied a paleoscience approach to organic soil profiles from 13 aerobic peatbank ecosystems on 7 islands along the peninsula from 67.6 to 64.2°S. Peatbank ecosystem ages were obtained by Radiocarbon measurements of organic matter from the base of these profiles and cluster in three groups: older than 1000 years old (as old as 2750 years old), 400-500 years old, and younger than 65 years with fixed bomb-spike carbon. Three of these peatbank profiles were studied in detail, and show growth rates over the last 65 years of ~2.5 mm yr‑1. This rate is faster than those observed during previous periods but is similar to other recent nearby studies that report recent growth rates of ~2.6 mm yr‑1. Organic carbon storage ranged from 6.1 to 21.3 kgC m-2. Values of moss bank organic matter δ13C show progressively more depleted δ13C values; in which depletion increases 3.0‰ over recent decades. Overall increase in source-independent discrimination is 1.7‰, consistent with published records from other locations and an increase in photosynthetic activity at the regional scale. Source-independent discrimination displays substantial variations corresponding negatively to variation of organic matter C:N values. Our results imply several recent changes in Antarctic peat forming ecosystem processes including formation of new moss banks, increased accumulation rates, and high variability in source-independent discrimination. These changes are complex but affected by contemporary climate changes of the region including increasing temperatures over the past century.