Identifying Glacial Meltwater Sources in Greenland using Noble Gases as Tracers

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Yi Niu1, M. Clara Castro2, Sarah Aciego2, Chris M Hall2, Emily I Stevenson3, Carli A Arendt2 and Sarah B Das4, (1)University of Michigan, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Ann Arbor, MI, United States, (2)University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI, United States, (3)University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom, (4)WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States
We present a noble gas study in glacial meltwater (GMW) from the Greenland Ice Sheet. It explores the information noble gases can provide in glacial environments with respect to GMW sources, relative source contributions, water residence times, and spatial locations where this GMW originates within the ice sheet. This study seeks to improve our understanding of the dynamics of the ice sheets, critical for the major role they play in climate change. This is possible due to the conservative nature of noble gases and the temperature dependency of their concentrations in water in equilibrium with the atmosphere (ASW) which allows estimation of the altitude at which GMW originated. In addition, crustal He accumulates in water over time, allowing for estimation of water residence times.

GMW samples were collected at five locations in southern Greenland. Results show that the major source of subglacial meltwater is ASW rather than old, compressed glacial ice, which has a distinct noble gas signature not seen in our samples. Given that, GMW samples do deviate to a certain extent from ASW, with concentrations displaying two distinct patterns. The first one presents a relative Ar enrichment with respect to Ne, Kr, and Xe, first observed in high-altitude springs in the Galápagos Islands (Warrier et al., 2012). The second one displays a mass-dependent pattern, first observed in Michigan rainwater (Warrier et al., 2013). Ne and Xe analysis suggests that about half of the samples equilibrated at a temperature of ~0°C and altitudes between 1 km and 2 km, with a few samples pointing to lower equilibration altitudes and temperatures between 2°C and 5°C. Two samples suggest an origin as melted ice and lack of equilibration with surface conditions. He concentrations vary between 1.1 and 7 times that of ASW and suggest glacial meltwater ages between 100 and 3600 yrs, a result that is consistent with a preliminary 3H analysis.


Warrier, R. B., Castro, M. C., and Hall, C. M. (2012), Recharge and source-water insights from the Galapagos Islands using noble gases and stable isotopes, Water Resour. Res., 48, W03508, doi:10.1029/2011WR010954.

Warrier, R. B., Castro, M. C., Hall, C. M., and Lohmann, K. C. (2013), Noble gas composition in rainwater and associated weather patterns, Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, doi:10.1002/grl.50610.