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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  10 Aug 2020

10 Aug 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

First Investigation of Perennial Ice in Winter Wonderland Cave, Uinta Mountains, Utah, USA

Jeffrey S. Munroe Jeffrey S. Munroe
  • Geology Department, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, 05753, USA

Abstract. Winter Wonderland Cave is a solution cave at an elevation of 3140 m above sea level in Carboniferous-age Madison Limestone on the southern slope of the Uinta Mountains (Utah, USA). Temperature dataloggers reveal that the mean annual air temperature (MAAT) in the main part of the cave is −0.8 °C, whereas the entrance chamber has a MAAT of −2.3 °C. The MAAT outside the cave entrance was +2.8 °C between August 2016 and August 2018. Temperature in excess of 0 °C were not recorded inside the cave during that 2-year interval. About half of the accessible cave, which has a mapped length of 245 m, is floored by perennial ice. Field and laboratory investigations were conducted to determine the age and origin of this ice and its possible paleoclimate significance. Ground penetrating radar surveys with a 400-MHz antenna reveal that the ice has a maximum thickness of ~ 3 m. Samples of packrat (Neotoma) droppings obtained from the ice in the main part of the cave yielded radiocarbon ages from 40 ± 30 to 285 ± 12 years. These results correspond with median calibrated ages from AD 1645 to 1865, suggesting that most of the ice accumulated during the Little Ice Age. Samples collected from a ~ 2-m high exposure of layered ice were analysed for stable isotopes and glaciochemistry. Most values of δ18O and δD range plot subparallel to the global meteoric water line with a slope of 7.5 with an intercept of 0.03 ‰. Values from some individual layers depart from this local water line suggesting that they formed during close-system freezing. In general, values of both δ18O and δD are lowest in the deepest ice, and highest at the top. This trend is interpreted as a shift in the relative abundance of depleted winter precipitation and enriched summer precipitation over time. Calcium has the highest average abundance of cations detectable in the ice (mean of 6050 ppb), followed by Al (2270 ppb), Mg (830 ppb), and K (690 ppb). Most elements are more abundant in the younger ice, possibly reflecting reduced rates of infiltration that prolonged water-rock contact in the epikarst. Abundances of Al and Ni likely reflect eolian dust incorporated in the ice. Liquid water appeared in the cave in August 2018 and August 2019, apparently for the first time in many years. This could be a sign of a significant change in the cave environment.

Jeffrey S. Munroe

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Jeffrey S. Munroe

Jeffrey S. Munroe


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Latest update: 26 Nov 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
This study investigated a cave in Utah (USA) that contains a deposit of perennial ice. Such ice caves are important sources of information about past climate, and are currently threatened by rising temperatures. The origin (precipitation), thickness (3 m), and age (several centuries) of the ice were constrained by a variety of methods. Liquid water recently entered the cave for the first time in many years, suggesting a destabilization of the cave environment.
This study investigated a cave in Utah (USA) that contains a deposit of perennial ice. Such ice...