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Microbially driven export of labile organic carbon from the Greenland ice sheet

Abstract

Glaciers and ice sheets are significant sources of dissolved organic carbon and nutrients to downstream subglacial and marine ecosystems. Climatically driven increases in glacial runoff are expected to intensify the impact of exported nutrients on local and regional downstream environments. However, the origin and bioreactivity of dissolved organic carbon from glacier surfaces are not fully understood. Here, we present simultaneous measurements of gross primary production, community respiration, dissolved organic carbon composition and export from different surface habitats of the Greenland ice sheet, throughout the ablation season. We found that microbial production was significantly correlated with the concentration of labile dissolved organic species in glacier surface meltwater. Further, we determined that freely available organic compounds made up 62% of the dissolved organic carbon exported from the glacier surface through streams. We therefore conclude that microbial communities are the primary driver for labile dissolved organic carbon production and recycling on glacier surfaces, and that glacier dissolved organic carbon export is dependent on active microbial processes during the melt season.

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Figure 1: GP (NEP + R) and R variability over one ablation season in the different supraglacial habitats.
Figure 2: Averaged synchronous fluorescence spectra collected over the entire summer 2012 for the studied glacier surface sample types (where λ emission = λ excitation + 18 nm).
Figure 3: Variations in 2012 ablation season DOC concentrations in supraglacial samples (in mg C l−1).
Figure 4: Variations in supraglacial LMWC concentrations for all sample types, per sampling time point, throughout the 2012 ablation season.
Figure 5: Comparison of total LMWCs and free carbohydrates versus DOC, and total LMWCs and free carbohydrates versus GP C production, throughout the 2012 ablation season.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by grants from the UK National Environment Research Council (NERC) NE/J02399X/1 to A.M.A., NERC Doctoral Training Program Grant to M.M., NERC grant NE/H023879/1 to J.W. and NERC studentships NE/152830X/1 and NE/J500021/1 to A.T. We would like to thank all members of the Greenland 2012 Leverett field team for their assistance during field work.

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M.M., A.M.A. and J.T. designed the overall study. M.T. and J.W. were involved in advising the detail of the study design. M.M. and A.T. collected the field data. M.M. performed the experiment and processed the data. M.M., A.M.A. and M.T. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michaela Musilova.

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Musilova, M., Tranter, M., Wadham, J. et al. Microbially driven export of labile organic carbon from the Greenland ice sheet. Nature Geosci 10, 360–365 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2920

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