Semester of Graduation

Summer 2021

Degree

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Geology and Geophysics

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest ice-free region in Antarctica and are characterized as a polar desert environment. Soils in the region are typically very dry (<1% soil water by weight) and remain frozen for most of the year. Increases in air temperature and incoming solar radiation during the austral summer generate meltwater from glaciers, ground ice, and snow patches supplying moisture to soils and altering the physical and chemical makeup of the subsurface. Previous studies have utilized airborne electromagnetic surveys (AEM) to analyze groundwater systems in the deep subsurface but have not yet examined soil moisture in the shallow (<4 m) subsurface. Here, I used electrical resistivity data from two AEM surveys (2011 and 2018) and soil geochemical data from three transects to characterize the spatial heterogeneity of soil properties in the near-subsurface of lower Taylor Valley. Soil resistivities from 2011 and 2018 range from 33.2 Ωm to 3535 Ωm with low elevations of <100 meters above sea level (masl) typically displaying the lowest resistivities and high elevations displaying greater resistivities. Liquid brine fractions were empirically estimated from electrical resistivity values using Archie’s Law and range from 0.3% to 68.2% for soils with resistivities <200 Ωm. Additionally, soil transect data show greater percentages of fine-grained sediments (<63 µm) exist at elevations <100 masl where soil resistivities begin decreasing. Resistivity variability in the subsurface is ultimately controlled by the site history, local and regional climate, soil salinity, soil moisture, soil lithology.

Committee Chair

Doran, Peter T.

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