Greenland meltwater impacts on the 234U/238U composition of seawater, the role of subglacial residence time.
Abstract:The chemical composition of seawater depends on the sources and sinks of the constituent elements, including those derived from continental weathering and transported by rivers. Glacial melt rivers compose a significant percentage of contributing water in the high latitudes, and potentially impact the overall composition of seawater. The magnitude of the chemical changes glacial melt can have on adjacent seawater depends on the composition of glacial melt, which is directly influenced by the subglacial residence time of meltwater. Long residence times correlate to subglacial water with both high cation concentrations and 234U/238U isotopic compositions. Thus, the residence time of subglacial water and corresponding subglacial geochemistry impacts the 234U/238U composition of proximal seawater and potentially global seawater.
To test the influence of subglacial water residence times on seawater chemistry we examined the U-series composition of four outlet glaciers directly connected to the Southern Greenland Ice Sheet located near Narsarsuaq, Ilulissat, Nuuk and Kulusuk, and adjacent seawater at each site. All outlet glaciers in this study are located within three of the five primary drainage basins beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet, each in varying stages of subglacial hydrologic evolution, resulting in unique chemical compositions of meltwater draining from each location. At these four locations we found subglacial water residence time values of 10-1000 years. In regions where the U concentration, 234U/238U isotopic composition and residence times were high (1.01 ppb, 1.263 and ~1,000 years in Narsarsuaq) the adjacent seawater 234U/238U composition was elevated (1.152) compared to regions where the U concentration, 234U/238U isotopic composition and residence times were low (0.05 ppb, 1.008 and ~10 years in Illulisat) the adjacent seawater 234U/238U composition remained around the assumed seawater average (1.145).
Through this study we observed a direct impact of Greenland Ice Sheet outlet glacier subglacial residence times on adjacent seawater 234U/238U compositions suggesting that large ice sheet changes on glacial/inter-glacial timescales may have a larger impact on mean seawater 234U/238U compositions than previously hypothesized.