Modeling nitrate concentrations in an Antarctic glacial meltwater stream under fluctuating hydrologic conditions and nitrate inputs

Open Access
Bernzott, Emily Dorothy
Graduate Program:
Civil Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
July 05, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Michael Gooseff, Thesis Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • hyporheic zone
  • primary productivity
  • stream
  • nitrate
  • nutrients
  • hydrology
The McMurdo Dry Valleys comprise a unique polar desert ecosystem in Victoria Land, Antarctica. The hydrologic system in the Dry Valleys is often characterized as being simplified compared to temperate watersheds, due to the ability to identify physical boundaries and nutrient sources and sinks. We seek to characterize the evolution of streamflow, solutes, and nutrients along a glacial meltwater stream in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, and to understand the role of different sources and sinks under varying hydrologic conditions. The study presented here includes streamflow routing, solute modeling, and nitrate concentration modeling in Von Guerard stream, a stream with abundant algal coverage in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica. The streamflow model is a solution to the kinematic wave routing problem. Solute modeling addresses advection, dispersion, as well as hyporheic zone inputs, which are controlled by weathering and hyporheic exchange. Lastly, the nitrate model builds on the solute model with the addition of a gross primary production (GPP) component. Results indicate that the hyporheic source of nitrate is controlling due to rapid exchange with the main channel. GPP impacts are small due to light-saturated conditions for a majority of the season, but provide a consistent sink for nitrate. The role of advective and dispersive transport is highly dependent on flow conditions, with advective transport controlling at high flows and dispersive controlling at low flows.