Walgreen Coast

This post includes parts of the Eights Coast, Walgreen Coast, and Bakutis Coast. The Eights Coast extends between Pfrogner Point (S72o37’ W89o35’) and Cape Waite (S72o42’ W103o1’) The Walgreen Coast extends from Cape Waite to Cape Herlacher (S73o52’ W114o12’), and the Bakutis Coast extends west of Cape Herlacher to Dean Island (S74o42’ W127o5’). These points are on the Amundsen Sea embayment, an area fed by two large glaciers and smaller ones (Haynes, Pope, Smith, and Kohler), all of which are retreating (Blaustein, 2014). The West Antarctic Coast is generally bordered by ice shelves, which up until now have buttressed ice streams from the continental glaciers and slowed their discharge. These ice shelves are also losing mass, reducing the buttressing effect (Paolo, Fricker, and Padman, 2015)

Glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea along the Walgreen Coast, especially the large Pine Island (S75o10’ W100o0’) and Thwaites (S75o30’ W106o45’) glaciers, exhibit the largest ice mass loss of any glaciers on Earth. Ice loss occurs as above-freezing water flows underneath the glaciers and melts them at their grounding line—the point where the glacier loses contact with bedrock and goes afloat to become an ice shelf. Problems with melting of these glaciers pre-dates recent global warming. In the 1940s, warm ocean waters from an El Nino event began an incursion beneath Pine Island Glacier. This warm water remained under the glacier and never refroze when the sea waters became colder in subsequent decades (Smith et al., 2017; Voosen, 2016). In more recent years, above-freezing water re-entered the areas underneath these glaciers, attacking the grounding lines, which are below sea level by several hundred meters. The retreat of grounding lines raises fears of catastrophic collapse and rapid sea level rise (Silvano et al., 2018).

Thwaites Glacier is now thinning as much as 4 meters per year and its grounding line is migrating inland (Milillo et al., 2019). This melting is likely to continue this century, with grounding lines retreating about 1 km per year. However, as the glaciers become smaller, it is expected that underlying rock being weighted down by the glacial ice will rebound and change the grounding line in the 23rd century (Larour et al., 2019; Steig, 2019).  This bedrock uplift in response to ice loss delays the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet under moderate warming scenarios (Barletta et al., 2018).

Ellsworth Land Tundra ecoregion is east of Pine Island Glacier and includes the Jones Mountains, Thurston Island, and Hudson Nunatuks, which are volcanic cones extending above the ice sheet. On Thurston Island are nunatuks which extend above the ice and are called the Walker Mountains. On the Noville Peninsula of Thurston Island is the Sikorski Glacier (S71o50’ W98o30’), an Important Bird Area for the emperor penguin. Four island groups in the Amundsen Sea are also Important Bird Areas. Brownson Islands (S74o10’ W103o30’) are an important bird area for the emperor penguin and seabirds. Edwards Islands (S73o50’ W103o10’), Schaefer Islands (S73o39’ W103o20’), and Lindsey Islands (S73o38’ W103o10’) are important bird areas for the adélie penguin and seabirds (Harris et al., 2015).

Marie Byrd Land Tundra includes the Walgreen Coast and Bakutis Coast west of Pine Island Glacier. On the Bear Peninsula at Hummer Point (S74o20’ W110o20’) is an Important Bird Area for the emperor penguin (Harris et al., 2015). Scattered throughout Marie Byrd Land inland of the glaciers and ice shelves are large volcanoes, such as Mount Frakes (S76o48’ W117o42’) and Mount Takahe (S76o17’ W112o5’) in the Crary Mountains and Toney Mountain (S75o48’ W115o50’ in the Kohler Range. All three volcanoes reach 11,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. Further to the south is the 4,000 to 6,000-foot Hollick-Kenyon Plateau.

References

Barletta, Valentina R., et al., 2018. Observed rapid bedrock uplift in Amundsen Sea embayment promotes ice-sheet stability. Science 360:1335-1339. 10.1126/science.aao1447.

Blaustein, Richard J. 2014. Antarctic Tipping Points—the fate of the Amundsen Sea glaciers. www.nature.com/scitable/blog/eyes-on-environment/antarctic_tipping_points_the_fate.

Harris, C.M., et al. 2015. Important Bird Areas in Antarctica 2015. BirdLife International and Environmental Research and Assessment Ltd., Cambridge, England.

Larour, E., et al. 2019. Slowdown in Antarctic mass loss from solid Earth and sea-level feedbacks. Science 364:969. 10.1126/science.aav7908.

Milillo, P., et al. 2019. Heterogeneous retreat and ice melt of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica. Science Advances 5:eaau3433. 10.1126/sciadv.aau3433.

Paolo, Fernando S., Helen A. Fricker, and Laurie Padman. 2015. Science 348:327-331. 10.1126/science.aaa0940.

Silvano, Alessandro et al., 2018. Freshening by glacial meltwater enhances melting of ice shelves and reduces formation of Antarctic bottom water. Science Advances 4:eaap9467. 10.1126/sciadv.aap9467.

Smith, J.A. et al. 2017. Sub-ice-shelf sediments record history of twentieth-century retreat of Pine Island Glacier. Nature 541:177-180. 10.1038/nature20136.

Steig, Eric J. 2019. How Fast will the Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreat? Science 364:936-937. 10.1126/science.aax2626.

Voosen, Paul. 2016. In the 1940s, warm oceanwaters found Achilles’s heel of crucial Antarctic ice sheet. 10.1126/science.aal0421. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/11/1940s-warm-ocean-waters-found-achilless-heel-crucial-antarctic-ice-sheet.

Ecoregions of Taymyr and Severnaya Zemlya

Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra Ecoregion

The Asian landmass reaches its furthest north point at Cape Chelyakin in the Taymyr Peninsula. To the south is the Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra ecoregion. To the west of the peninsula is the Kara Sea, dotted with islands, and to the east is the Laptev Sea. The area is drained by the Taymyr, Khatanga, Pyasina, and Anabar Rivers. West of the Khatanga Gulf, the peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya are administratively part of Krasnoyarsk, while east of the Khatanga Gulf is the Sakha Republic, which includes the Anabar and Olenek River drainages and Begichev Island.

The Taymyr Peninsula contains two of the largest Russian state nature reserves, the Great Arctic and Taymyr. These areas consist of multiple units. The World Wildlife Fund considers them to be part of its Global 200 ecoregions—the most important for biodiversity in the world.

The coast of the peninsula is dotted with islands and is the summer habitat of migratory waterfowl—four species of geese, Betwick’s swan, and ducks. The Great Arctic Nature Reserve contains 80 percent of the nesting and moulting habitat of the brent goose. On coastal cliffs are nests of peregrine falcon and snowy owl. Marine mammals include fox, reindeer, musk ox, and lemmings, while marine mammals include seals and whales (Mazurov et al., 2012).

Permafrost-preserved horse and wolf bones have provided information important to understanding the domestication of the horse and dog. Based on 35,000-year-old wolf bones found along the Bolshaya Balakhnaya River, Skoglund et al. (2015) were able to recalibrate the wolf mutation rate; and conclude that dogs converged from wolves at least 27,000 years ago. Wolves in Siberia were in the ancestry of high latitude dog breeds.

Based on horse bones radiocarbon dated to 42,000 and 16,000 years Before Present, Schubert et al. (2014) were able to compare ancient genomes to those of today’s domestic horse. The ancient population contributed to the genetics of current breeds. Domestication gene changes focused on muscular and limb development, joints, and the cardiac system. Other gene changes focused on cognitive function, including social behavior, learning, fear response, and agreeableness. These changes were key to taming horses for domestication. Horses are believed to have been domesticated about 5,500 years ago in Kazakhstan. Modern Przewalski’s horse, the last remaining wild horse, is not believed to be the direct ancestor of modern horses. There are believed to be three genetically distinct populations of ancient horses: the archaic group in Taymyr, the ancestors of Przewalski’s horses in Kazakhstan, and the ancestor of modern domestic horses, which is still missing (Leonardi et al., 2018).

Man and the Biosphere Reserve

Taymyr Nature Reserve is 1,781,928 ha in 5 units, protecting the breeding range of red-breasted goose and the summer breeding range of reindeer. The Ary-Mas unit (N72°25’ E102°0’) of 15,611 ha contains the northernmost Dahurian larch forest on terraces above the New River. The main core unit to the west of Lake Taymyr (N74°0’ E100°0’) includes part of the Byrranga Mountain Range, with 96 glaciers, rising to 1,000 m. It is part of the Lower Verkhnyaya Tayyr River Important Bird Area. The Lukunsky Unit (N72°2’ E105°0’) is 9,005 ha and includes Lake Levinson-Lessing. On the Laptev Sea is the Pronchishchev Bay (N76°0’ E115°0’), which includes a walrus rookery, polar bear habitat, marine mammals, and nesting coastal bird areas. The Bikada area to the east of Lake Taymyr (N75°0’ E106°0’) is 937,760 ha.

Ramsar Site—wetland of international importance

Gorbita Delta (N73°0’ E95°0’) is 75,000 ha containing the most important goose breeding area in Taymyr area. White-fronted goose, red-breasted goose, and bean goose use the 80-km-long river valley for breeding. It is an Important Bird Area.

Other sites

Great Arctic Nature Reserve is 4,165,200 ha extending along the Kara Sea and including many of its islands. Some of the major sites include Kara Sea Islands (Sergei Kirov, Voronina, Izvestiy TSIK, Arkticheskiiy Institute, Sverdrup, and Uedineniya), the Nordenskjold Archipelago (N76°35’ E96°40’), Pyasina Gulf (N74°0’ E80°0’), Middendorf Bay (N75°50 E92°30’), Lower Taymyr (N76°E100°), and Chelyuskin (N77°44’ E104°15’), and Brekhovsky Islands (N70°30’ E82°45’). The Nordenskjold Archipelago is an Important Bird Area and includes Ledyanyye Islands, Vkhodnoy Island, Nansen Island, Taymyr Island, Votyochnyye Islands, Litke Islands, Russky Island, Pakhtusov Island, Vilkitsky Island, and Tsivolka Island. The Lower Taymyr unit is also the Nizhnyaya Taymyr River Important Bird Area.

Also on the Kara Sea, Lower Leningrad River (N76°21′ E102°13′) is an Important Bird Area.

In the Khatanga Gulf area of the Laptev Sea, Gusikha River and Lower Balakhnaya River (N73°54′ E106°21′), and Khara-Tumus Peninsula and Nordvik Bay (N73°47′ E110°57′) are Important Bird Areas.

On the Laptev Sea, Olenek Bay (N73°6′ E119°36′), Preobrazheniya Island (N74°39′ E112°57′), and Terpyey-Tumus Area (N73°30′ E117°9′) are Important Bird Areas.

Inland on the Taymyr Peninsula, Anabar River (N70°34′ E112°58′), Dudypta River Plains (N71°32′ E93°31′), Kurluska Lake and Middle Boganida Valley (N71°29′ E97°3′), and Volochanka River Basin (N70°41′ E93°51′) are Important Bird Areas.

Arctic Desert Ecoregion

Between the Taymyr Peninsula and the North Pole are the Northern Lands or Severnaya Zemlya, consisting of large glaciated islands—Bolshevik Island, October Revolution Island, Kamsomalets Island, and Pioneer Island. These islands make up the Arctic Desert ecoregion.

Until the 2010s, the Vilkitsky Straight between the Taymyr Peninsula and Bolshevik Island remained frozen throughout the summer. In recent years, it has become ice-free, allowing navigation in the summer.

Severnaya Zemlya provides habitat for cliff-nesting seabirds such as the little auk, kittiwake, black guillemot, ivory gull, and glaucous gull. Inland are nesting areas for brent goose, purple sandpiper, and snow bunting (de Korte, Volkov, and Gavrilo, 1995).  The islands are also a major gathering point for polar bears. The archipelago is attractive because there is year-round contact with sea ice (Belikov et al. 1998).

However, the year-round sea ice may be changing. The eastern Eurasian Basin is evolving toward a state of less sea ice and a new Arctic climate state. Record-breaking sea-ice loss occurred in 2007 and 2012 for both the Amerasian Basin and the Eurasian Basin. The Eurasian Basin has been nearly ice-free at the end of summer since 2011. Warm Atlantic water appears to be getting into the basin. The area east of Svalbard is melting quickly. This warming continues to move east toward Severnaya Zemlya (Polyakov et al., 2017).

References

Belikov, Stanislav E. 1998. Polar Bears of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago of the Russian Arctic. Ursus 10:33-40.

Grimm, David. May 21, 2015. Arctic find confirms ancient origin of dogs. http://sciencemag.org/news/2015/05/arctic-find-confirms-ancient-origin-dogs

J. de Korte, A.E. Volkov, M.V. Gavrilo. 1995. Bird Observations in Severnaya Zemlya, Siberia. Arctic 48:222-234.

Leonardi, Michela et al. 2018. Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change. Science Advances 4:eaar5589 (10.1126/sciadv.aar.5589).

Mazurov, Yuri L. et al. 2012. Natural Heritage of Taimyr: Challenges for its Conservation and Sustainable Use. Geography, Environment, Sustainability 5:88-103 (10.15356/2071-9388-03v05-2012-07).

Polyakov, Igor, et al. 2017. Greater role for Atlantic inflows on sea-ice loss in the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean. Science 356:285-291. (10.1126/scienceaai8204)

Schubert, Mikkel et al. 2014. Prehistoric genomes reveal the genetic foundation and cost of horse domestication. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences 111:E566-E5669 (10.1073/pnas.1416991111).

Skoglund, Pontus et al. 2015. Ancient wolf genome reveals an early divergence of domestic dog ancestors and admixture into high-latitude breeds. Current Biology 25:P1515-P1519 (10.1016/j.cub.2015.04.019).

 

Amery Oasis and Dome Argus

Coldest place on Earth, mountains buried in ice, and river gorges made by vanished rivers

I. Map Boundaries: 70 to 80 degrees South, 60 to 90 degrees East

II. Country: Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (Station operated by China at Dome Argus)

III. Overview

Amery Ice Shelf and Lambert Glacier occupy a deep rift valley, one of the most prominent bays or indentations in the solid wall of icy land and mountains that is East Antarctica. Lambert is the largest valley glacier in the world. Below the ice of the Amery Ice Shelf, a marine community thrives underneath 700 m of ice and over 1200 m of sea water. Drilling during 2005 into the ice shelf by the Census of Antarctic Marine Life indicates that sponges, fan worms, urchins, and sea snails are abundant.

To the west of the Amery Ice Shelf, the Prince Charles Mountains rise. Approximately 500 million years ago, the Prince Charles Mountains were joined with the western Ghats of India as part of one mountain range. The Amery Oasis, located just west of Amery Shelf, is an ice-free area with a river gorge from a now-vanished river. Coal seams contain fossilized tree remains. Continue reading

Haughton, Napartulik, and Simirlik

Mars on Earth, where fish came ashore and mammals went back to the sea, a mummified forest, and a gull that nests on nunatuks

I. Map boundaries: 70 to 80 degrees North; 60 to 90 degrees West. The center of this area is about 2,000 miles north of Quebec City. This map contains ecoregion boundaries (terrestrial and marine), important bird area locations, national wildlife area locations, migratory bird sanctuary locations, river names, fiord names, fossil locations, and mine locations not found on atlas maps.

II. Countries: Canada (Nunavut-part of Qikiqtaaluk Region); Denmark (Qaasuitsup municipality of Kalaallit Nunaat, or Greenland)

III. Overview

If you start at Quebec City and head 2,000 miles north, you would reach the area of this map. This map area includes northern Baffin Island, eastern Devon Island, eastern Axel Heiberg Island, southern Ellesmere Island, and the Hayes Peninsula of Greenland. Ecologically, this is an area of arctic tundra. However, the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund ecoregions project has delineated the tundra into five different terrestrial ecoregions and six different marine ecoregions in this map area, based on vegetation and wildlife present. Continue reading

Alexander Island and Ellsworth Mountains

Standing Fossil Forests, Melting Ice Shelves, and Subglacial Lakes

I. Map boundaries: 70 to 80 degrees South; 60 to 90 degrees West

II. Country: Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (British Antarctic Survey stations at Fossil Bluff on Alexander Island and Sky Blu in Palmer Land)

III. Overview

Ice shelves in the Bellingshausen Sea are melting, making map-making a moving target. The attached map shows the grounding lines on US Geological Survey maps published for the area; the geography is subject to change as the polar regions warm and coastal features are revealed. The more northerly Wilkins Ice Shelf collapsed in 2009 between Charcot Island and Latady Island and is no longer connected to Charcot Island. The Bryan Coast contains a 250-km long ice wall along the Bellingshausen Sea coast.

In southern Alexander Island, nunatuks (rocky mountaintops) stick up above the ice sheet and reveal fossil forests still standing upright. Roots can still be excavated from fossil soils. A diverse flora of fern fossils has been found that links this flora to the Gondwana floras also found in the Cretaceous in Australia, India, and South America. Gondwana broke up about 150 million years ago. West Antarctica is made up of unstable remnants (crustal blocks) of Gondwana. On this map are the Gondwana remnants of the Antarctic Peninsula, Haag Nunatuks, and Ellsworth Mountains. The Ellsworth Mountains rise to 16,000 feet in elevation at Vinson. Continue reading

Kara Sea

Great Arctic Nature Reserve, great estuaries, and great gas fields

I. Map boundaries: 70 to 80 degrees North; 60 to 90 degrees East

II. Country: Russia (Archangel Oblast: Nenetsia Autonomous Region-Vaygach Island and Archangel Oblast-Novaya Zemlya, Krasnoyarsk Oblast, and Tyumen Oblast: Yamilia Autonomous Region)

III. Overview

High arctic tundra surrounds the Kara Sea, and the sea itself is notable for its extensive area of shallow continental shelf. To the west of the Kara Sea is Novaya Zemyla, and the north island (Severny) is shown on the map. Cape Zhelaniya at the tip of the north island is considered to the northeast tip of Europe. To the south and east are the high arctic islands of Russia, the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas, and the Pyasina Delta and islands. The Yenisei River and Bay represents a biogeographical boundary between the western and eastern Siberian floras. Sibiryakova Island and the Gydan Peninsula are part of the western area and the mainland just to the east in the Pyasina watershed is part of the eastern flora area. Continue reading