Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Research article
10 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 10 Jul 2014

Factors controlling the geochemical composition of Limnopolar Lake sediments (Byers Peninsula, Livingston Island, South Shetland Island, Antarctica) during the last ca. 1600 years

A. Martínez Cortizas, I. Rozas Muñiz, T. Taboada, M. Toro, I. Granados, S. Giralt, and S. Pla-Rabés

Abstract. We sampled a short (57 cm) sediment core in Limnopolar Lake (Byers Peninsula, Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands), which spans the last ca. 1600 years. The core was sectioned at high resolution and analyzed for elemental and mineralogical composition, and scanning electron microscope and energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer (SEM-EDS) analysis of glass mineral particles in selected samples. The chemical record was characterized by a contrasted pattern of layers with high Ca, Ti, Zr, and Sr concentrations and layers with higher concentrations of K and Rb. The former were also enriched in plagioclase and, occasionally, in zeolites, while the latter were relatively enriched in 2 : 1 phyllosilicates and quartz. This was interpreted as reflecting the abundance of volcaniclastic material (Ca rich) versus Jurassic–Lower Cretaceous marine sediments (K rich) – the dominant geological material in the lake catchment. SEM-EDS analysis revealed the presence of abundant volcanic shards in the Ca-rich layers, pointing to tephras most probably related to the activity of Deception Island volcano (located 30 km to the SE). The ages of four main peaks of volcanic-rich material (AD ca. 1840–1860 for L1, AD ca. 1570–1650 for L2, AD ca. 1450–1470 for L3, and AD ca. 1300 for L4) matched reasonably well the age of tephra layers (AP1 to AP3) previously identified in lakes of Byers Peninsula. Some of the analyzed metals (Fe, Mn, Cu, and Cr) showed enrichments in the most recent tephra layer (L1), suggesting relative changes in the composition of the tephras as found in previous investigations. No evidence of significant human impact on the cycles of most trace metals (Cu, Zn, Pb) was found, probably due to the remote location of Livingston Island and the modest research infrastructures; local contamination was found by other researchers in soils, waters and marine sediments on areas with large, permanent research stations. Chromium is the only metal showing a steady enrichment in the last 200 years, but this cannot be directly attributed to anthropogenic pollution since recent research supports the interpretation that climatic variability (reduced moisture content and increased wind intensity) may have resulted in enhanced fluxes of mineral dust and trace elements (Cr among them) to Antarctica. At the same time, some features of the chemical record suggest that climate may have also played a role in the cycling of the elements, but further research is needed to identify the underlying mechanisms.