Noble Gas Signatures in Athabasca Glacier – Tracing Glacial Meltwater Sources

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Chris M Hall, Yi Niu, M. Clara Castro, Sarah Aciego and Carli A Arendt, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI, United States
We present a noble gas study in glacial meltwater (GMW) from the Athabasca Glacier (AG) in the Columbia Icefield, Canada. It constrains the relative contributions of GMW sources, water residence times, and spatial locations where the GMW originates in the alpine glacier. This is possible due to the conservative nature of noble gases and temperature dependency of their concentrations in water in equilibrium with the atmosphere (ASW) which allows for estimation of the altitude at which GMW originated. In addition, crustal He accumulates in water over time, allowing for estimation of water residence times.

Water samples were collected in the morning on selected dates in May and July 2011 at two locations about 200 m apart near the terminus area at altitudes between 2000 m and 2100 m. Eight samples were collected in six different days.

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 from the AG do deviate to a certain extent from the ASW values corresponding to measured water temperature and altitude at collection points. Two patterns are observed in the concentrations of the AG samples. 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). A preliminary Xe analysis indicates equilibration altitudes between 2500 m and 3400 m, values compatible with local topography. Samples present He excess of 4% to 91%, and suggest an average residence time of ~400 yrs.


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.