Summer-winter transitions in Antarctic ponds I: the physical environment

1024 681 Stroud Water Research Center

Hawes, I., K. Safi, B. Sorrell, J. Webster-Brown, and D.B. Arscott. 2011. Antarctic Science 23(3):235–242.

doi: 10.1017/S0954102011000046


Meltwater ponds are one of the most widespread aquatic habitats in ice-free areas of continental Antarctica. While most studies of such systems occur during the Antarctic summer, here we report on ice formation and water column attributes in four meltwater ponds on the McMurdo Ice Shelf during autumn, when they went from ice-free to > 80 cm thickness of ice. Ice thickness grew at an average rate of 1.5 cm d-1 in all ponds and as ice formed, salts and gases were excluded. This resulted in conductivity rising from 3–5 to > 60 mS cm-1 and contributed to the ebullition of gases. Incorporation of gas bubbles in the ice resulted in a high albedo and under-ice irradiance declined faster than incident, the former falling below 1 W m-2 (daily average) by early April. After two months of ice formation, only 0–15% of the volume of each pond was still liquid, although this represented 5–35% of the pond sediment area, where much of the biological activity was concentrated. We suggest that the stresses that the freezing process imposes may be as important to structuring the biotic communities as those during the more benign summer growth period.