Secrets to World's Saltiest Pond Revealed
Sept. 17, 2012
French photographer Samuel Blanc has been leading tours to Svalbard, Norway's archipelago in the Arctic, since 2007. This year the reduced sea ice extent allowed his expedition aboard the 12-passenger Polaris to circumnavigate the northern islands in early July rather than mid-August. Climate change is having a direct impact on the unique ecosystem isolated on these islands more than 400 miles north of Europe. In the following photos, Blanc gives us a tour of life on the archipelago's largest island, Spitsbergen. You can see more of his work at www.sblanc.com.
In west Spitsbergen, Little Auks, such as those pictured here, and other birds aren't safe on the cliffs. Hungry polar bears have learned to climb the steep gradients in search of food.
Polar Bears and Bleeding Glaciers
The dissolved iron seen in this glacier may help fight climate change. As the iron washes into the northern seas, it can help fertilize phytoplankton blooms that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
As global warming melts permafrost in the arctic, more carbon is released into the atmosphere. Meanwhile areas of tundra are also seeing a rise in fires.
The vast stretch of open water due to thinning of the Arctic sea ice is forcing walruses to often crowd together on beaches.
This bearded seal has found a safe spot away from polar bears and sharks. Many seals however also snooze in the water, where they are at risk of becoming of meal for the Greenland shark, the world's slowest shark.
Only three percent of the total population of arctic fox are called "Blue fox" and unlike the rest of the population, these blue critters don't turn white in the winter.
These foxes are showing their summer colors.
Antarctica’s Don Juan Pond stays liquid in one of the unlikeliest places on Earth, the frigid McMurdo Dry Valleys. The pond is the saltiest body of water on Earth, eight times brinier than the Dead Sea. The secret to how the pond stays moist and salty suggests the possibility of water flowing on the face of Mars.
A team lead by Brown University geologists discovered that Don Juan Pond gets its salt and some of its water from a nearby deposit of calcium chloride salt. The salt deposit sucks water from the icy air whenever the humidity increases. That salt laden water then slowly trickles downhill towards the pond. The rest of the pond’s water comes from occasional snow melt that helps to wash the salt into the pond.
When the salt deposits suck moisture from the air they form dark streaks on the surface. Similar dark streaks, called slope lineae, have been documented on the down slope of cliffs on Mars.
Could these lines be a sign of tiny amounts of water flowing on Mars?
“Don Juan Pond is a closed basin pond and we just documented a couple hundred closed basins on Mars,” study co-author James Head of Brown said in a press release. “So what we found in Antarctica may be a key to how lakes worked on early Mars and also how moisture may flow on the surface today.”
“Broadly speaking, all the ingredients are there for a Don Juan Pond-type hydrology on Mars,” lead author James Dickson of Brown said in a press release. “It’s not likely that there’s enough water currently on Mars for the water to form ponds, but stronger flows in Mars’s past might have formed plenty of Don Juan Ponds.”
Don Juan’s salty secret was documented using 16,000 images taken over a two month period. Changes in the pond’s appearance were correlated to environmental conditions, such as humidity. The study was published in Scientific Reports.
IMAGE: A camera installed above Don Juan Pond in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. (Geological Sciences/Brown University)