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"Global chemistry of glaciers"
"Complex model of chemical weathering in the catchment of polithermal glacier on Spitsbergen"

Marta Kondracka1, Łukasz Stachnik2
1 University of Silesia in Katowice Faculty of Earth Sciences
Department of Applied Geology, Division of Applied Geophisics,
ul. Będzińska, 60 41-200 Sosnowiec
e-mail: martakondracka@o2.pl

2Jagiellonian University, Institute of Geography and Spatial
Management, Department of Geomorphology
ul. Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków
e-mail: lukasz.stachnik@gmail.com

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Description popularizing the research project

Metaphorically speaking we can say that a glacier is breathing. Yet the metaphor does not communicate the fact the huge masses of ice alternately advance and retreat, as if they were a colossal chest. And even if it did, due to processes of glacier melting, there would be more inhales. And it should not be associated with various life forms in glacial habitats. The metaphor is quite literal, as it refers to the flows of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which are inextricably linked with dynamics of the phenomena occurring in subpolar masses of ice.
It is a commonly believed that it is the excessive amount of carbon dioxide released by man into the atmosphere that retained heat around the planet. Increased temperature also reached the subpolar land of ice and snow, where it turns ice into water. In the water, in accordance with its chemical properties, carbon dioxide dissolves i.e. disappears from the atmosphere. It seems that to solve the problem of carbon dioxide. It is enough to leave it to glaciers. They will 'catch' the pesky particles until there is equilibrium between carbon acid obtained after dissolving CO2, and carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, slightly acidic waters, just like acid rains, topple the domino tile, directing the cascade of events to minerals too. In an acidic environment they dissolve too, including and excluding elements and chemical compounds from the circulation. Some of them, oxygen and carbon dioxide, will stay trapped on the bottom of the sea for several millions years.
The equilibrium of glacier's inhales and exhales was disturbed a long time ago. Consequences of the disturbances are more than just 'ordinary' melting of ice, to a large extent already recognised and foreseeable. Much less we know about the chemical reactions, which, similarly to melting, occur at much faster pace since the greenhouse gases obscured the higher layers of atmosphere. In future chemistry of glaciers may be as important as regular analyses of global temperatures, not only around the Pole.

Abstract

The significance of glacier systems in the circulation of chemical elements in the natural environment is not fully understood yet. One particularly important part of this cycle is the quantity of atmospheric CO2 consumed by glacial areas. CO2 is believed to be the primary agent of global warming today. Another important problem is determination of the impact of atmospheric O2 on the intensification of chemical processes. The identification of the source of the primary products of the chemical processes taking place in glaciers is an important goal in terms of long term climate changes. Aluminosilicate and silicate dissolution processes are linked with long term (up to 100 million years) binding atmospheric CO2 in marine deposits, while carbonate dissolution binds CO2 for several years at most. It should be noted that glacial research is important on a global scale, as ice covers 10% of the Earth's surface. The purpose of the research was to qualitatively and quantitatively identify differences in principal chemical processes as well as their dependence on climate changes. The researches were performed around the Werenskiold Glacier in the High Arctic. The research aims were to accomplish the following specific goals: 1) a comparative analysis of oxidation processes, carbonation processes, and hydrolysis during a glacier's melting phase, 2) estimation of the extent of dissolution of silicate, aluminosilicate, and carbonate. The aforesaid goals were accomplished by producing a geochemical model using PHREEQC software. Field work included collecting water samples during ablation and winter season in Werenskiold Glacier and measuring physico-chemical indicators of water quality (i.e. temperature, electrolytic conductivity etc.). Laboratory work included the analyses of chemical composition of the water samples. Basing on the data, a geochemical model was prepared with PHREEQC software. The project's main result was creating an advanced model for chemical processes occurring in a glacier and taking into account the factors that intensify the aforesaid processes. The model will be used in comparing quantity of consumed atmospheric CO2 and the effects of O2 on chemical processes taking place in glaciers. Another important outcome of the project was identification of the source of the products of chemical processes.

 

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