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In-stream uptake and retention of C, N and P in a supraglacial stream

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Supraglacial streams form annually during the melt season, transporting dissolved solutes from the melting ice and snowpack to subglacial flow paths and the glacier terminus. Although nutrient and carbon processing has been documented in other supraglacial environments (cryoconite holes, snowpack), little work has examined the potential for in-stream nutrient retention in supraglacial streams. Here we carried out a solute nutrient injection experiment to quantify NH3 +, PO4 3– and labile dissolved organic carbon (DOC) retention in a supraglacial stream. The experiment was performed on a 100 m stream reach on Mendenhall Glacier, an outlet glacier on the Juneau Icefield, southeastern Alaska, USA. The study stream contained two distinct reaches of equal length. The first reach had a lower velocity (0.04 m s–1) and contained abundant gravel sediment lining the ice–water interface, while the second reach was devoid of bedload sediment and had an order-of-magnitude higher velocity. At the end of the second reach, the stream emptied into a moulin, which is typical of supraglacial streams on this and other temperate glaciers. We found that N and P were transported largely conservatively, although NO3 increased along the reach, suggestive of nitrification. Labile DOC was retained slightly within the stream, although rates were low relative to the travel times observed within the supraglacial stream. Although our findings show that these streams have low processing rates, measurable in-stream nitrification and dissolved organic matter uptake within this biologically unfavorable environment suggests that supraglacial streams with longer residence times and abundant fine substrate have the potential to modify and retain nutrients during transport to the glacier terminus.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-12-01

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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.

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