Microbial processes in the weathering crust aquifer of a temperate glacier
© 2018 Author(s). Incident solar radiation absorbed within the ablation zone of glaciers generates a shallow perched aquifer and seasonal icebound microbial habitat. During the melt seasons of 2014 and 2015, borehole investigations were used to examine the physical, geochemical, and microbiological properties in the near-surface ice and aquifer of the temperate Matanuska Glacier (south-central Alaska). Based on temperature, solar forcing, and ice optical properties, the dissipation of shortwave radiation promoted internal melting and the formation of a weathering crust with a maximum depth of ∼2 m. Boreholes into the weathering crust provided access to water percolating through the porous ice. The water had low ion concentrations (4-12 μS cm-1), was aerobic (12 mgO2 L-1), contained 200 to 8300 cellsmL-1, and harbored growing populations with estimated in situ generation times of 11 to 14 days. During the melt season, the upper 2m of ice experienced at least 3% of the surface photosynthetically active radiation flux and possessed a fractional water content as high as 10 %. Photosynthetic subsistence of biogeochemical reactions in the weathering crust ecosystem was supported by ex situ metabolic experiments and the presence of phototrophic taxa (cyanobacteria, golden and green algae) in the aquifer samples. Meltwater durations of ∼ 7.5 months coupled with the growth estimates imply biomass may increase by 4 orders of magnitude each year. Our results provide insight into how seasonal dynamics affect habitability of near-surface ice and microbial processes in a portion of the glacial biome poised to expand in extent with increasing global temperature and ablation season duration.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Christner, B., Lavender, H., Davis, C., Oliver, E., Neuhaus, S., Myers, K., Hagedorn, B., Tulaczyk, S., Doran, P., & Stone, W. (2018). Microbial processes in the weathering crust aquifer of a temperate glacier. Cryosphere, 12 (11), 3653-3669. https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-3653-2018