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Hungarian Scientific Program 2005

The Hungarian research activity on the King George Island began in 1998. The investigations focus on geomorphological, sedimentological features and environment-changes of coastal oases.

The Hungarian background institutes:

- Eötvös Loránd University, Department of Physical Geography, Budapest

- Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Geographical Research Institute, Budapest

- Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Geochemical Laboratory, Budapest

- Collegium Budapest, Centre for Applied Studies

Cooperative partners:

- KORDI (Korean Ocean Research and Development Institute)

- INACH (Instituto Antártico Chileno)

Our summer season work at the area of King Sejong Station will be a continuation of the long-term periglacial monitoring activity, but we plan to introduce new investigations as well. The work is mainly sample area based field research, data and sample collection, and preliminary analyses. The main analyses will take place in Hungary.


The Antarctic oases are extreme environments in marginal positions that are extremely sensitive even to short term climate changes. These are transitional areas stretching between the frost-bound icecaps and the significantly warmer coastlines. These growing areas are characterised by intensive sediment formation and dynamic surface evolution. The permafrost-based alterations in relief and hydrology of the oases are among the finest indicators for current climate changes.
Due to warming the rocky tundra-surfaces make theoretically typical periglacial surfaces in the foregrounds of thinning and retreating ice-fields and glaciers. In reality the processes of oases-evolution are more complex.
Based on geomorphological and sedimentological field research (1998, 2003) the existence of distinct geographical zonality has been identified in the coastal oases of the King George Island. Due to the sample area-based investigations, these borders could be distinguished.
The most important zone (and border) is the region of active periglacial processes – from the environment change’s point of view – because this is the most sensitive marginal area, and the existence of permafrost is a dominant factor in the surface-evolution, sedimentation and colonisation of the region.

1. Investigation of permafrost degradation in the island-like permafrost area
Rationale: Decrease in the areal extension of the permafrost is a typical consequence of the warming. As the presence of permafrost primarily determines the evolution of the tundra environment, its presence and extension provide important indicative data.
Aim: Data collection about the summer permafrost degradation, the active layer changes. Determining the maximum active layer thickness. To define the volume change of the permafrost islands (and to compare new data with our earlier results).
Expected results: Determining the changing borderlines of permafrost and identification of new ice-free areas. Explanations for regional differences.
Method: Sample area-based, regular measurements of the summer active layer change.
Measurement and mapping of active layer thickness in quadrat-nets and along cross-sections (by using metal rods).

2. Investigation of effects of permafrost degradation on periglacial mass movements
Rationale: The periglacial mass movements are the dominant processes of the surface evolution of the coastal oases. Most of these processes are connected to the permafrost. Presence of water is indispensable for these landforming processes – and the main source of water is the melting of ground-ice.
Aim: Analysing interrelations of mass-movements and the existence of permafrost.
Expected results: To determine the border changes of the geographical zone of active periglacial processes. The analysis of the permafrost-dependency of various mass-movements.
Method: Sample area-based investigation in large-scale mapped areas and along cross profiles. Creating geomorphological maps, geomorphological and sedimentological cross-profiles. Measuring the groundwater-level change.

Rationale:The survival of permafrost islands is strongly determined by sediment-cover thickness, slope-steepness, and the chemical weathering.
The existence of weathering and its strength has an important role in water storage and the conservation of permafrost. Our preliminary mineralogical investigations show, that the chemical weathering is a highly characteristic process in the sediment-cover formation. This weathering is surprisingly strong in the zone of active periglacial processes. But the surrounding dry and permafrost-free zone has significant weathering crust-, desert-pavement and lag surface formation processes.
Aim: Determining the strength and role of chemical weathering in the coastal oases.
Expected results: Explanation for the presence of chemical weathering and its regional differences. Role of weathering in the mass-movements; the chemical weathering is the permafrost and permafrost-free zones. The connection between the weathering and the eolian activity.
Method: Sediment sampling from various environments and landforms: from active creeping stripes, solifluction tongues, polygons, and non-patterned ground. The analyses (grain-size and X-Ray analysis) will take place in Hungary.  

Rationale: Permafrost degradation in some areas is followed by total desiccation of the debris, therefore the land forming processes also slow down or stop. On these surfaces it is the lichens that appear as pioneer colonists. Lichens can be used to aid the dating of glacial and periglacial landforms, as the lichens’ growth rates indicate their age. Rhizocarpon geographicum is the most frequently used thalli in lichenometric dating.
Aim: To date the major landforms on the sample areas.
Expected results: To obtain an accurate time sequence about stabilization of periglacial landforms and mass movements, thus about the speed of environmental changes in the coastal zone. The most important indicative forms are rock glaciers, creeping slopes and solifluction tongues.
Method: Measuring diameters of Rhizocarpon thalli followed by statistical analyses.

The trace elements (and their distributions) can be natural tracers of geomorphic processes, but their investigations also provide new possibilities in the field of “traditional environmental studies”. The increasing human activities increase the chance of accidental heavy metal pollution. However our planned research focuses on the natural processes, the expected results probably will give new information about the environmental effects of an unexpected pollution, because the majority of the selected trace elements are heavy metal at the same time.

Our work focuses on the following topics:
1.various movement processes in polygons and slides.
2.the natural solubility an availability of  heavy metals and their spatial and temporal variability under periglacial environment;
3.the real heavy metal caused environmental hazards in the case of an accidental pollution.

To reach our aims the following elements will be investigated:
Major elements: Al, Fe, Mn
Trace elements: As, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mo, Ni, Pb, Zn.
The measurements will be carried out in Hungary by ICP AES.

1. Investigation of trace element distribution in polygons
Rationale: The “total extractable (trace) element content” (TEC) can characterize the raw sediments and soils. The vertical and horizontal distribution of TEC refers to movement and turbulence intensity in the polygon.
Aim: To get new knowledge about the movement processes in the polygons.
Expected results: To identify young and mature polygons on the basis of vertical and horizontal pattern of investigated elements.
Method: Sampling different (variously developed) polygons in the central and lateral zones in different depth. The collected samples will be treated by cc. nitric acid and hydrogen-peroxide and will be measured by ICP AES. The preparation and the measurements will be carried out in Hungary.

2. Investigation of trace element distribution in mass-movements
Aim: To identify the boundary of the laminar and turbulent flows in the different kinds of mass-movements.
Method: Sampling different mass-movements (and their environments for controls) in the upper, medium and lower section in different depth. The vertical distribution of investigated elements will refer to the type of flow and creep. The collected samples will be treated by cc. nitric acid and hydrogen-peroxide and will be measured by ICP AES. The preparation and the measurements will be carried out in Hungary.

3. Investigation of vertical distribution of heavy metal solubility
Rationale: The relatively high incident radiation and the low albedo cause high thermal anomaly between different depths of sediments. The higher temperature of the groundwater temporary can result higher solute heavy metal contents.
Aim: How do influence the temperature and radiation the solute heavy metal content in the “topsoil” and in the deeper zones.
Methods: Take water rich sediment samples from different depth under sunny and cloudy conditions. The samples will be centrifugized and the water samples will be conserved. The measurements will be carried out in Hungary. The temperatures, chemical reactions and the incident radiation will be measured parallel with sampling.

4. Trace element uptake of a higher plant
Rationale: If the global warming is a permanent long term process new vascular plants will colonize the Antarctic Islands. The low organic matter content in the raw soils is not able to balance the relatively high natural heavy metal content.
Aim: To identify the real heavy metal availability of the investigated elements for higher plants.
Expected results:
1.We will determine the uptake potential of Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica
2.We will determine the translocation in different phenophases.
3.We will determine the trace element distribution between different organs and the root zone.
Methods: Collect Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica plant in various ecological aspect. The plant organs will be treated. The measurements will be carried out in Hungary.

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