University of Oulu

Irvine-Fynn, T.D.L., Edwards, A., Stevens, I.T. et al. Storage and export of microbial biomass across the western Greenland Ice Sheet. Nat Commun 12, 3960 (2021).

Storage and export of microbial biomass across the western Greenland Ice Sheet

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Author: Irvine-Fynn, T. D. L.1; Edwards, A.2; Stevens, I. T.1,3,4;
Organizations: 1Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK
2Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK
3School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK
4Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, Frederiksborgvej, Roskilde, Denmark
5Department of Glaciology and Climate, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Copenhagen, Denmark
6School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
7Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
8Institute of Geography and Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
9Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
10Department of Ecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague, Czechia
11Bristol Glaciology Centre, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
12Centre for Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate, Department of Geosciences, UiT—The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
13Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.7 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-10-22


The Greenland Ice Sheet harbours a wealth of microbial life, yet the total biomass stored or exported from its surface to downstream environments is unconstrained. Here, we quantify microbial abundance and cellular biomass flux within the near-surface weathering crust photic zone of the western sector of the ice sheet. Using groundwater techniques, we demonstrate that interstitial water flow is slow (~10⁻² m d⁻¹), while flow cytometry enumeration reveals this pathway delivers 5 × 108 cells m⁻² d⁻¹ to supraglacial streams, equivalent to a carbon flux up to 250 g km⁻² d⁻¹. We infer that cellular carbon accumulation in the weathering crust exceeds fluvial export, promoting biomass sequestration, enhanced carbon cycling, and biological albedo reduction. We estimate that up to 37 kg km⁻² of cellular carbon is flushed from the weathering crust environment of the western Greenland Ice Sheet each summer, providing an appreciable flux to support heterotrophs and methanogenesis at the bed.

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Series: Nature communications
ISSN: 2041-1723
ISSN-E: 2041-1723
ISSN-L: 2041-1723
Volume: 12
Issue: 1
Article number: 3960
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-24040-9
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1172 Environmental sciences
Funding: This research was supported by a Royal Society Grant (RG130314: PRESTIGE, to A.E. and T.D.L.I.-F.). We acknowledge NERC Large Grant (NE/M020991/1 and NE/M021025: Black & Bloom, supporting T.D.L.I.-F., J.M.C. and C.J.W., with recognition of project investigators including M Tranter, AJ Hodson, E Hanna, and M Yallop). T.D.L.I.-F. acknowledges Leverhulme Trust Fellowship RF-2018-584/4. A.E. acknowledges Leverhulme Trust Fellowship RF-2017-652. A.E., T.D.L.I.-F., S.M.E.R. and J.M.C. all recognise NERC Standard Grant (NE/S001034/1: MicroMelt). A.C.M. and A.E. acknowledge support from a National Research Network for Low Carbon Energy and Environment (NRN-LCEE) grant from the Welsh Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW): Geo-Carb-Cymru. J.M.C. recognises the Rolex Awards for Enterprise and National Geographic. K.A.C. acknowledges funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant agreement No. 663830. Financial support was also provided to K.A.C. by the Welsh Government and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales through the Sêr Cymru National Research Network for Low Carbon, Energy and Environment. K.N. was involved through a SNSF Mobility Fellowship Grant (P2FRP2/174888); A.H. acknowledges a research professorship from the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence scheme (Grant 223259) and an Academy of Finland ArcI visiting fellowship to the University of Oulu. Logistical field support from the Dark Snow Project ( led by J.E.B., and a Villum Young Investigator Programme (Grant VKR-023121) and a Czech Science Foundation (Grant: 19-21341 S) held by M.S. are gratefully recognised.
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