Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 373–394 | Cite as

Limnology of Two Antarctic Epishelf Lakes and their Potential to Record Periods of Ice Shelf Loss

  • James A. Smith
  • Dominic A. Hodgson
  • Michael J. Bentley
  • Elie Verleyen
  • Melanie J. Leng
  • Steven J. Roberts


George VI Ice Shelf is the largest ice shelf on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula and its northern margin marks the southern most latitudinal limit of recent ice shelf retreat. As part of a project to reconstruct the long-term (Holocene) history of George VI Ice Shelf we studied two epishelf lakes impounded by the ice shelf at Ablation Point, on the east coast of Alexander Island. These lakes, Moutonnée and Ablation, are stratified water bodies with a lower marine layer and an upper freshwater layer. To determine if their sediment records could be used to detect past changes in the presence or absence of the ice shelf it was necessary to describe their present-day limnology and sedimentology. We measured water column chemistry and sampled the water column and sediments of the lakes along vertical and horizontal transects. We analysed these samples for diatoms, stable isotopes (δ18O, δ2H, δ13CDIC, δ13Corg), geochemistry (TOC, TN, C/N ratios) and physical sedimentology (grain-size). This was supplemented by chemical and biological reference data from the catchments. Results showed that the water columns of both lakes are nutrient limited and deficient in phytoplankton. Benthic productivity is low and decreases with depth. Comparison of water column chemistry with an earlier survey shows a net increase in the thickness of the freshwater layer in Moutonnée Lake between 1973 and 2001, which could indicate that George VI Ice Shelf has thinned during this period. However, a similar trend was not observed in Ablation Lake (5 km to the north) and an alternative explanation is that the changes are a seasonal phenomena. Data from the surface sediment transects identified a number of proxies that respond to the present day stratification of the water column including diatom species composition, stable isotopes and geochemistry, particularly in Moutonnée Lake. Collectively these data have been used to develop a conceptual model for determining past ice shelf configuration in epishelf lakes. Specifically, periods of past ice shelf loss, and the removal of the ice dam, would see the present stratified epishelf lake replaced by a marine embayment. It is suggested that this change would leave a clear signature in the lake sediment record, notably the deposition of an exclusively marine biological assemblage, increased ice rafted debris and δ13Corg values that are indicative of marine derived organic matter.


Antarctic Limnology Diatoms Epishelf lakes Ice shelf collapse Isotopes Sediment traps 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • James A. Smith
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dominic A. Hodgson
    • 1
  • Michael J. Bentley
    • 2
  • Elie Verleyen
    • 3
  • Melanie J. Leng
    • 4
  • Steven J. Roberts
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.British Antarctic SurveyNatural Environment Research CouncilCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of DurhamDurhamUK
  3. 3.Protistology and Aquatic EcologyGhent UniversityGentBelgium
  4. 4.Natural Environment Research Council Isotope Geosciences LaboratoryBritish Geological SurveyNottinghamUK
  5. 5.Institute of Geography, School of GeoSciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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