• An international team of researchers analyzes the environmental evolution of Antartica

    July 30, 2014

    The University of Oviedo participates in the HOLOANTAR project, which evaluates the effects of climate change on the frozen continent by studying the unglaciated zones

    Arrival of Marc Oliva (left) and Jesús Ruiz (right) at Antartida, at the airfield of Frei

    Only 0.4% of Antartica is not covered by ice. The scarce deglaciated areas host a unique biodiversity that has adapted to an extremely hard environment, which also has several lake areas that prove to be valuable registries in order to reconstruct the environmental evolution of the frozen continent throughout the past millenia, as well as the changes in climate brought about by this progression. The University of Oviedo is part of a group of researchers from Portugal, Spain, Brazil and Uruguay who are working to describe this climate variability in the internation project entitled HOLOANTAR (Holocene Environmental Change in the Maritime Antarctic. Interactions between permafrost and the lacustrine environment).

    The researcher from the Department of Geography of the University of Oviedo, Jesús Ruiz Fernández, is working in this multidisciplinary team that aims at explaining the main changes undergone by the maritime Antartida and attempt to determine what have been the natural and what the human-made reasons behind them. The work of HOLOANTAR, coordinated by researcher Marc Oliva of the University of Lisbon, are being developed at the Bay of Byers, in the Western part of Livingston Island, an area with around 110 lakes cause by the backward movement of the Rotch glacier.

    Professor Jesús Ruiz, researcher from the Department of Geography of the University of Oviedo, is in charge of conducting the detailed cartography and the geomorphologic study of the Byers Peninsula, located in Livingston Island

    Obtaining a detailed cartography of the lake basins of Byers and studying their geomorphologic dynamics are the concreto goals of Professor Ruiz Fernández inside the team. So far, two field campaigns have been made to gather samples of deposits from several lakes and try to characterize the thermal behavior of the so-called permafrost, an everlasting frozen soil that controls the concrete geomorphological dynamics of the areas free from glacial ice and which constitutes an excellent marker, from the point of view of the climate.

    The first results of the research in the area have led the researchers to prove, for example, the fast retreat of the Rotch glaciar during the past two decades due to climate change. More than 17% of the Elephant Point Peninsula, a never-before-studied area located near Byers, was formed between 1956 and 2010. Moreover, the researchers have been able to prove that more than 11% of the recently deglaciated area of Elephant Point has experimented different type of mass movements, such as slidings, mud flows and fallen soil. These high rates of transportation of materials are common in recently-deglaciated areas and progressively go down as they reach the normal values of non-glaciated areas.

    Since the second half of the past century, there has been a tendency towards climate warming in the whole region of the Antartic Peninsula. This rate of warming has been quantified as 0.5 C/decade, which makes it one of the greatest increases of temperatures registered on Earth.

    Dating and analyzing at the labs the surveys obtained at the lakes will allow the researchers to deduct a chronology and a detailed environmental evolution of the maritime Antartica during the past 11,000 years. In turn, the instrument installed by HOLOANTAR at the Byers Peninsula to monitor the temperature of the air, the permafrost and the thickness of the snow cover will lead to valuable mid-term results on the effects of climate change that are currently seen on the maritime Antartica. The first conclusions obtained have already been presented in prestigious internationa forums and have been sent to the highest-impact journals.

    The next campaing of HOLOANTAR is expected to begin in 2015 and will be focused on creating geolectrical profiles to characterize the permafrost, the installation of stakes and DGPS measurements and the development of geoecological works throughout the Peninsula.

    Publications derived from the HOLOANTAR project

    • Articles in international Journals
      Oliva, M. & Ruiz-Fernández, J. (in review): Paraglacial dynamics in a maritime Antarctic permafrost environment (Elephant Point, Livingston island).
      Earth Surface Processes and landforms.
      Oliva, M. & Ruiz-Fernández, J. (in review): Geomorphological processes and frozen ground conditions in Elephant Point (Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica).
      Ruiz-Fernández, J. & Oliva, M. (in review): Geomorphological features in Cerro Negro hill (Byers Peninsula, Livingston Island, Antarctica) and palaeoenvironmental implications.
      Geografia Fisica e Dinamica Quaternaria.
    • Communications accepted during congresses:
      Geo-ecological units in Elephant Point Peninsula (Livingston Island, Maritime Antarctica).
      XXXIII SCAR Meetings and Open Science Conference, Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (Auckland, New Zealand, August 22 to September 3, 2014).
      Geomorphological processes in the ice-free area of Elephant Point (Livingston island, South Shetland).
      XXXIII SCAR Meetings and Open Science Conference, Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (Auckland, New Zealand, August 22 to September 3, 2014).
      Procesos geomorfológicos en Punta Elefante (Livingston Island, Antartica).
      XIII Reunión de la Sociedad Española de Geomorfología (Cáceres, Spain, September 9-12, 2014).
      Geoecological dynamics in a ice-free area in the Maritime Antarctica: a study case from Elephant Point (Livingston Island, South Shetland).
      Ecology of Glacier Forelands (Obergurgl, Austria, September 17-21, 2014
      Paraglacial processes in a recently deglaciated Antarctic environment (Elephant Point, Livingston Island).
      International Symposium on The Future of the Glaciers. From the past to the next 100 years (Turín, Italy, September 18-21, 2014).