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Origin, structure and geochemistry of a rock glacier near Don Juan Pond, Wright Valley, Antarctica

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2020

Kelsey Winsor
School of Earth and Sustainability, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ86005, USA
Kate M. Swanger*
Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA01854, USA
Esther L. Babcock
Logic Geophysics & Analytics LLC, Anchorage, AK99508, USA
James L. Dickson
Division of Geological & Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA91125, USA
Rachel D. Valletta
Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA19103, USA
Daniel F. Schmidt
Department of Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA01854, USA


The South Fork of Wright Valley contains one of the largest rock glaciers in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, stretching 7 km from the eastern boundary of the Labyrinth and terminating at Don Juan Pond (DJP). Here, we use results from ground-penetrating radar (GPR), qualitative field observations, soil leaching analyses and X-ray diffraction analyses to investigate rock glacier development. The absence of significant clean ice in GPR data, paired with observations of talus and interstitial ice influx from the valley walls, support rock glacier formation via talus accumulation. A quartz-dominated subsurface composition and discontinuous, well-developed desert pavements suggest initial rock glacier formation occurred before the late Quaternary. Major ion data from soil leaching analyses show higher salt concentrations in the rock glacier and talus samples that are close to hypersaline DJP. These observations suggest that DJP acts as a local salt source to the rock glacier, as well as the surrounding talus slopes that host water track systems that deliver solutes back into the lake, suggesting a local feedback system. Finally, the lack of lacustrine sedimentation on the rock glacier is inconsistent with the advance of a glacially dammed lake into South Fork during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Earth Sciences
Copyright © Antarctic Science Ltd 2020

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