Meteoric 10be speciation in subglacial sediments of east Antarctica

Eiríka Ö. Arnardóttir, Joseph A. Graly*, Kathy J. Licht, David L. Bish, Marc W. Caffee

*Corresponding author for this work

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A sequential chemical extraction procedure was developed and tested to investigate the utility of meteoric 10Be as a tracer for authigenic mineral formation beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Subglacial meltwater is widely available under the Antarctic Ice Sheet and dissolved gases within it have the potential to drive chemical weathering processes in the subglacial environment. Meteoric 10Be is a cosmogenic nuclide with a half-life of 1.39·106 years that is incorporated into glacier ice, therefore its abundance in the subglacial environment in Antarctica is meltwater dependent. It is known to adsorb to fine-grained particles in aqueous solution, precipitate with amorphous oxides/hydroxides, and/or be incorporated into authigenic clay minerals during chemical weathering. The presence of 10Be in chemical weathering products derived from beneath the ice therefore indicates chemical weathering processes in the subglacial environment. Freshly emerging subglacial sediments from the Mt. Achernar blue ice moraine were subject to chemical extractions where these weathering phases were isolated and 10Be concentrations therein quantified. Optimization of the phase isolation was developed by examining the effects of each extraction on the sample mineralogy and chemical composition. Experiments on 10Be desorption revealed that pH 3.2–3.5 was optimal for the extraction of adsorbed 10Be. Vigorous disaggregation of the samples before grain size separations and acid extractions is crucial due to the incorporation of the nuclide in clay minerals and its preferential absorption to clay-sized particles. 10Be concentrations of 2–22·107 atoms·g−1 measured in oxides and clay minerals in freshly emerging sediments strongly indicate subglacial chemical weathering in the catchment of the Mt. Achernar moraine. Based on total 10Be sample concentrations, local basal melt rates, and 10Be ice concentrations, sediment-meltwater contact in the subglacial environment is on the order of thousands of years per gram of underlying fine sediment. Strong correlation (R = 0.97) between 10Be and smectite abundance in the sediments supports authigenic clay formation in the subglacial environment. This suggests meteoric 10Be is a useful tool to characterize subglacial geochemical weathering processes under the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101458
JournalQuaternary Geochronology
Early online date14 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

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