Chemical depletion of sediment under the Greenland Ice Sheet

Joseph A. Graly, Neil F. Humphrey, Joel T. Harper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The chemical composition of sediment sampled from a network of ice boreholes contacting the bed of the ablation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet is compared to the composition of intact bedrock clasts. This sediment is enriched in silica and depleted in reactive cations compared to the underlying bedrock. In order to test whether these differences result from grain size biases either in sample collection or due to natural sorting, sediment samples were analyzed by grain size aliquots. Enrichment of silicon and depletion of cations is consistent across grain size classes and the compositions of bedrock and subglacial sediment are statistically separate. The difference in composition between subglacial sediment and rock aligns closely with the composition of dissolved solutes in waters sampled from the same field sites and is dissimilar to the composition of the sites' suspended sediment. This implies that chemical weathering rather than disproportionate physical removal of friable minerals is responsible for the compositional differences between rock and sediment. Mass balance analysis implies 3–10% of the sediment's mass is lost to solute dissolution, with approximately double that amount precipitated as clay minerals (a large portion of which may have been physically expelled). This result implies that temperate ice sheet subglacial environments may be more chemically active than previously realized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1922-1936
Number of pages15
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number13
Early online date6 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


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