Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Participants
Carl-Johan Borg (2017)
Abstract: Environmental growth conditions and mechanisms involved in sediment transport by needle ice have historically been difficult to assess and are poorly documented. The spatial and temporal dynamics that relate to the environment, growth and decay of needle ice are not fully understood. This study monitored needle ice growth, melt and visually identified sediment displacement mechanisms by needle ice, with the aim of revealing environmental growth criteria, timing of growth/melt, ground-surface-air energy balance and sediment displacement mechanisms. Furthermore, the impact of needle ice displacement on vegetation and patterned ground formation was analysed. High-frequency visual monitoring, using three cameras, supplemented by high-frequency measurements of air temperature, soil moisture and wind speed was used to investigate needle ice growth and decay dynamics. Results from visual and environmental monitoring of needle ice growth, showed that the needle ice growing environment was more dynamic, especially in in terms of surface temperature, than previously argued. Needle ice growth was observed to occur during surface temperatures from -2.0°C to 2.2°C, soil moisture levels from 0.4% to 37.4% and in winds speeds of 0 m/s to 12.6 m/s. Needle ice initiation was documented a few minutes to hours before or after the onset of surface temperature dropping to below 0°C. Imagery displayed that the depth of ice nucleation was variable within the soil column, possibly relating to the energy balance of radiative cooling, convective heat loss, ground conductivity and latent heat release at the air-surface-ground boundary. Heaving and resettling, toppling and rolling were identified as slope displacement mechanisms when needle ice decayed. Animal trampling and hail were additionally documented as substantial surface altering processes. Furthermore, no impact of needle ice reducing vegetation stability was identified, although a tendency to hinder vegetation expansion was noted. Also, no creation of patterned ground was observed as a result of needle ice decay.
Christel D. Hansen (2018)
Dissertation: On High-Altitude and High-Latitude Frost Environments
Abstract: Frost environments occur throughout the world, with associated processes occurring across climatic zones. Climatic geomorphology proposes that climatic zones, largely derived from annual average air temperature and precipitation values, have specific landforms and processes active within that zone. This study offers unique insights into the frost environments of three locations in the Southern Hemisphere, namely the Eastern Cape Drakensberg of South Africa, sub-Antarctic Marion Island, and Dronning Maud Land of Antarctica. The Drakensberg ranges from temperate to alpine, Marion Island is hyper-maritime, and Dronning Maud Land a polar desert. Drivers and forcings on the ground frost regime are identified, as are future climatic scenarios. Altitude and latitude were identified as the most important locational drivers, while air temperature showed highest correlation with freezing events. The initiation of a freeze event correlated strongly with maximum ground temperatures. Vegetation cover was found to ameliorate frost cycles, thereby increasing ground temperatures. Dronning Maud Land of Antarctica is characterised by annual frost (permafrost), with limited seasonal thaw in summer. Thawing cycles reflected the depth of the active layer, which ranged from just under 60 cm for Robertskollen (at lowest altitude) to less than 15 cm on Slettfjell (at greatest altitude). Marion Island had the most active frost environment, exhibiting both seasonal frost, and ubiquitous shallow diurnal frost cycles. The Drakensberg were largely frost-free, with limited seasonal frost and few diurnal freeze-thaw events.
Diurnal frost processes were found to be azonal, and present at all three study locations. Evidence of landforms derived from diurnal frost processes were evident in each zone. Equifinality/convergence of form was present to a degree. The presence of patterned ground, which was not wholly derived from frost processes, suggests a measure of equifinality. Furthermore, openwork block deposits, of which not all are either blockstreams nor blockfields, are not necessarily the result of frost processes. The periglacial environment is poorly defined and methods to delineate this environment, as well as other climatic zones, should include additional parameters. Delineating zones on annual (and limited) monthly averages based on predominantly temperature, is not sufficient. While concepts of climatic geomorphology may be applied in a general sense, this framework is not suited to working at smaller scales. Specifically, periglacial environments should be delineated using ground moisture, as well as air temperature. Furthermore, vegetation and snow cover are important, as are soil textural properties.
Master of Science (MSc) Participants
Gabrielle A. Ayres (2017)
Abstract: Ice-free regions in Antarctica provide natural laboratories for investigating and modelling change in landscapes and ecosystems. The terrestrial ecosystems in western Dronning Maud Land are potentially critical to improve current understanding of polar ecosystems, however, they remain poorly represented and under-protected. Lichen habitats were used to elucidate geomorphic-biological feedbacks that shape the landscape’s topography and biodiversity, which in turn promote environmental heterogeneity. Environmental parameters acting on two landforms were measured to determine the colonisation and growth of lichens in niche habitats. The habitats were identified and characterised, and topographic heterogeneity was found to control lichen colonisation. Micro-topographical niches provide the most stable environments for colonisation, and are preferred habitats. Lichen-habitat interactions were species specific, and closely related to insolation and moisture availability. The bidirectional relationships between rock weathering and lichen colonisation was ascertained. Results showed that lichens are good indicators of landform heterogeneity, but also promote landform heterogeneity. Given the habitat preferences of specific lichen species, they provide proxy to evaluating environmental responses, especially environmental change. The findings of this research are to be used as baseline data for future studies exploring ecosystem development in emerging landforms.
Rosemary A. Dwight (2015)
Abstract: Feedbacks between abiotic variables and community structure in Antarctica are poorly understood. Research is, therefore, required to elucidate the patterns of biodiversity that exist and the factors that influence them, particularly under changing climates. Landscape processes affect environmental heterogeneity, which in turn affect patterns of biodiversity. Two inland Antarctic nunataks, Robertskollen and the Northern Buttress of Vesleskarvet, were selected for investigation to determine the potential impact of selected environmental factors on lichen distribution and abundance, at the intra- and inter-nunatak scales. Lichens were found to prefer rock faces with dips between 1° and 45°, and northern/southern aspects. Lichen colonisation was mostly in microtopographical features that result from rock weathering. The distribution of lichens was found to be regular at the intra- and inter-nunatak scale, whereas lichen abundance was found to be mostly influenced by temperature. On the Northern Buttress, rock hardness displays a similar pattern to lichen abundance, both of which are suggested to be a function of exposure time, which is dependent on deglaciation. The two nunataks serve as excellent laboratories that can potentially be used as proxies for investigating the possible impacts of climate change.
Christel D. Hansen (2014)
Abstract: Investigating openwork block accumulation has the potential to further our understanding of rock weathering, the control of geological structure on landforms, the production of substrates for biological colonisation and the impacts of climate change on landform development and dynamics. Various models for the development of these landforms have been proposed. This includes in situ weathering, frost heave and wedging. Furthermore, it has been suggested that cold-based ice has the potential to preserve these features rather than to obliterate them. Blocky deposits are also frequently used as proxy evidence for interpreting palaeoclimates. The morphology and processes acting on a blockfield located on the Northern Buttress of the Vesleskarvet Nunataks, Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica (2°W, 71°S) were investigated and characterised. Given block dimensions and orientations that closely resembled the parent material and only small differences in aspect related characteristics observed, the blockfield was found to be autochthonous with in situ block production and of a young (Holocene) age. Small differences in rock hardness measurements suggest some form of aspect control on rock weathering. South-facing sides of clasts were found to be the least weathered. In comparison, consistently low rock hardness rebound values for the north-facing aspects suggest that these are the most weathered sides. Additional indicators of weathering, such as flaking and pitting, support analyses conducted for rock hardness rebound values. Solar radiation received, slope gradients and snow cover were found to influence weathering of clasts across the study site. Furthermore, ambient temperatures and wind speed significantly influenced near-surface ground temperatures dynamics. However, the lack of a matrix and paucity of fine material in textural analyses suggest a limited weathering environment. It is suggested that the retreat of the Antarctic ice sheet during the last LGM led to unloading of the surface, causing dilatation and subsequent fracturing of the bedrock along pre-existing joints, leading to in situ clast supply. Subsequent weathering and erosion along other points or lines of weakness then yielded fines and slight edge rounding of clasts.
Dissertation awarded Cum Laude and received the Society of South African Geographers (SSAG) Bronze Medal, the top honours awarded for a geography MSc completed by research dissertation within a given year.
Camilla Kotzé (2016)
Abstract: Permafrost and active layer dynamics in the Antarctic play an important role within terrestrial landscapes and ecosystems and as a climate change indicator. However, they remain less thoroughly researched than their Northern-Hemispheric counterpart. Despite advancements made by ANTPAS on the permafrost and active layer monitoring network in the Antarctic, observational gaps still exist. Western Dronning Maud Land (WDML) has been identified as one of these gaps, necessitating further research on permafrost dynamics and the influence of climate parameters thereon. Such elucidation is critical to both the cryospheric and life sciences. Variations in the surface climate of Antarctica can be seen as a result of inter-annual variations in atmospheric circulation, enhancing permafrost degradation and active layer thickening which directly affects soil processes, such as sorting and cryoturbation. Ground temperatures from four permafrost boreholes from WDML were analysed from 2007 to 2014. The study sites exhibit seasonal freezing, periglacial landforms, and altitudinal variation, ranging between ca. 450masl to ca. 1300masl. Using ground thermal regime and regional climate data, the spatial and temporal variability of the active layer in the Ahlmannryggen and Jutulsessen areas of WDML were characterised. 137 Cs tracing has revealed that the active layer and associated landforms have been active over the past half century. Further results show that active layer depths at each site vary inter-annually and are particularly influenced by snow cover, altitude and distance to the ice-shelf. Moreover, a correlation between the SAO (Semi-Annual Oscillation) and measured ground temperatures was found, principally during the transitional season of the SAO in May and September. The relationship between climate and ground thermal regimes, especially the influence of teleconnections thereon, is essential to improving the understanding of permafrost dynamics and landform morphology in continental Antarctica.
Dissertation awarded Cum Laude
Jenna T. Knox (2018)
Dissertation: An investigation into chemical weathering on selected nunataks in western Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica
Elizabeth M. Rudolph (2016)
Abstract: Rock glaciers are landforms that present downslope movement of debris under the influence of ice and gravity. These landforms can be used as paleo-climate indicators as well as proxies for climate change. Rock glaciers have been investigated in a variety of climates and landscapes, however continental Antarctica, Dronning Maud Land specifically, remains understudied. This thesis aimed to investigate and classify five rock glaciers observed in the Jutulsessen, Dronning Maud Land. The surface characteristics and geomorphology were assessed and used as generic classifiers. Size, shape and landscape association was established by field surveying and GIS, whilst sediment and clast characteristics were determined from sampling. A surface temperature profile was created from short-term high frequency temperature measurements. All of the rock glaciers exhibit either undulating surfaces or patterned ground, or both, which suggests active-layer related processes. Sediment particle size analysis is inconclusive. The 137Cs-content and fabric analysis suggest movement regimes similar to other rock glaciers with higher activity at the head, and variable movement directions at the toe. Relative “activeness” is inferred from morphology: Grjotlia, Grjotøyra and Vassdalen were classified as lobate, spatulate and tongue-shaped respectively with Grjotlia the most stable. A new morphological classification of ‘crown- shaped’ is suggested for Brugdedalen and Jutuldalen, and they also appear most active. The control of local climate on rock glacier mechanics is emphasised by the findings, and thus climatic interpolation from a single weather stations is not useful. Increased spatial and temporal coverage of sediment profiles, surface topography and active-layer characteristics could be used to elucidate the processes and controls of these landforms in the Antarctic.
Dissertation awarded Cum Laude
David A. Scott (2015)
Abstract: Permafrost is a variable in Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems, and the role it plays in the cryosphere is not well understood. There is much still to be learnt about the thermal state, physical properties, thickness and age of permafrost in Western Dronning Maud Land (WDML). Active layer dynamics and observed change over time have the potential to improve our knowledge of climate change. Understanding the effects of a warming climate on permafrost can also be of benefit to infrastructure, especially in areas with a large amount of frozen ground such as Scandinavia, Canada and Russia. Active layer and permafrost dynamics of WDML, Antarctica, are presented and discussed using data from six study sites, namely the Robertskollen, Vesleskarvet, Flarjuven, Grunehogna, Slettjfell nunataks and the Troll research station in the Jutulsessen area. Ground and ambient air temperature, as well as ground moisture data were collected for each site. An inventory of active layer and permafrost landforms was compiled, as were the frequency of cycles over the zero-degree isotherm, and the depth of the active layer. Furthermore, 3D models, geo-referenced maps and Digital Elevation Models were created of study areas with the use of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Polygonal features are the most common landscape feature and are common to most of the study sites. Robertskollen has the deepest active layer at over 66cm and Slettfjell the shallowest at 9cm. A maximum recorded air temperature of 8.76°C (10/11/2014) occurred at Troll with the second highest maximum of 6.77°C (22/12/2010) recorded at Vesleskarvet. Robertskollen has the highest observable biological growth and a maximum recorded ground temperature of 22.84°C (10/01/2014). Troll and Valterkulten, registered the second and third highest ground temperatures respectively. The high ground Temperature observed for Robertskollen may be ascribed to it being the lowest altitude site. The highest number of cycles over the zero-degree isotherm was observed at Troll (11.01%), followed by Robertskollen (10.99%). For relatively warm areas, such as Robertskollen it is recommended that two metre borehole loggers are installed in order to capture a detailed understanding of the active layer. The UAV proved to be a beneficial tool for capturing aerial photographs for post fieldwork analysis and 3D modelling.
Nicola F. Wilmot (2018)
Dissertation: The periglacial geomorphology of selected nunataks in Western Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica
Bachelor of Science Honours (BScHons) Participants
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