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The mass–area relationship within cryoconite holes and its implications for primary production

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Linear relationships between the mass of sediment present in a cryoconite hole and the hole area are described for a range of glacier and ice-sheet surfaces. The strong relationships found indicate that some mechanism regulates the thickness of the layer of sediment occupying the 'floor' of the hole. We find that this regulation process responds immediately to the addition of new debris to a hole and infer that it is caused by lateral thermal conduction from the debris to the hole wall. This causes hole widening by melt, and a redistribution of the debris within then takes place, usually resulting in 0.04–0.20 g cm–2 of debris in a layer of single cryoconite grains. The thinning of the debris layer during hole widening also reduces self-shading and thus maximizes the exposure of cryoconite to solar radiation. We explore the implications of the hole widening for biological production. Net photosynthesis (CO2 fixation) is shown to be favoured by thin debris layers, whilst net heterotrophy (CO2 respiration) occurs when debris layers are in excess of 2–4 mm. We conclude that the carbon balance of cryoconite holes is sensitive to the thickness of the debris and that the thermodynamic equilibration of the debris thickness helps the ecosystem to maximize primary production during the summer.

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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