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Carbon fluxes through bacterial communities on glacier surfaces

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There is very little information about the activity of microbial communities on the surface of glaciers, though there is an increasing body of evidence to show that they strongly influence the biogeochemistry of these habitats. We measured bacterial abundance and production in cryoconite holes on Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine glaciers in order to estimate the role of heterotrophic bacteria within the carbon budget of glacial ecosystems. Our results demonstrate an active bacterial community on the surface of glaciers with doubling times that vary from a few hours to hundreds of days depending on the glacier and position (water or sediments) within the cryoconite hole. However, bacterial production is only ∼2–3% of the published literature values of community respiration from similar habitats, indicating that other types of microbes (e.g. eukaryotic organisms) may also play a role in the C cycle of glaciers. We estimate that only up to 7% of the organic C in cryoconite sediments is utilized by the heterotrophic bacterial community annually, suggesting that the surface of glaciers can accumulate organic carbon, and that this C may be important for biogeochemical activity downstream to adjacent ecosystems.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • 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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