Organic matter content and quality in supraglacial debris across the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet

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Quantifying the biogeochemical cycling of carbon in glacial ecosystems is of great significance for regional, and potentially global, carbon flow estimations. The concentration and quality of organic carbon (OC) is an important indicator of biogeochemical and physical processes that prevail in an ice-sheet ecosystem. Here we determine the content and quality of OC in debris from the surface of the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) using microscopic, chromatographic, spectrophotometric and hightemperature combustion techniques. The total OC content in the debris increased with distance from the edge of the ice sheet, from virtually zero to >6% dry weight at 50 km inland, and there was a peak in the carbohydrate proportion and the microbial abundance at 6 km inland. The highest (galactose + mannose)/(arabinose + xylose) ratios, indicating maximum autochthonous microbial production, were found at >10 km inland. We propose that three key processes influence the carbon cycling on the GrIS: aeolian input of microbial inoculum and nutrients, in situ biological C transformation and the wash-away of supraglacial debris by meltwaters. We show that all these processes have significant spatial variability. While the total OC content of the debris on the ice sheet is probably controlled by the physical processes of wind transport and wash-away by meltwater, the microbial abundance and the quantity of the labile cell-contained OC within the debris is likely to be driven by the balance between the wash-away and the microbial productivity.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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