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Dissolved Nitrogen Speciation and Concentration During Spring Thaw in the Greenland Ice Sheet Dark Zone: Evidence for Microbial Activity

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  • Alexandra T. Holland, University of Bristol
  • ,
  • Christopher J. Williamson, University of Bristol
  • ,
  • Andrew J. Tedstone, University of Bristol, University of Fribourg
  • ,
  • Alexandre M. Anesio
  • Martyn Tranter
  • and The Black and Bloom Group

This study provides the first contemporaneous measurements of the concentration and speciation of dissolved nitrogen (N) in snow, meltwater and ice during the onset of the ablation season at a site within the Dark Zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The decaying, partially leached snow pack near S6 in south-west Greenland produced meltwater with relatively constant nitrate (NO3) concentrations, approximating the snow pack average (1.1 µM). By contrast, ammonium (NH4+) (0–∼ 4 µM) and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) (0–∼ 3 µM) concentrations were more variable, and sometimes higher than the average snow pack concentrations of 1.0 and 0.4 µM, respectively. This variability could be the result of microbial uptake and production within the melting snow pack. We observed pooled meltwater at the snow-ice interface that appeared to scavenge DON (∼1–8 µM) and possibly NO3 (∼1–2 µM) from the underlying ice, whose initial surface was a continuum of superimposed ice and weathering crust from the previous season. The shallow meteoric ice (∼10 cm–1 m) beneath the snow pack had high concentrations of DON and NH4+(6.5 and 2.6 µM, respectively), while NO3 concentrations were similar to the snow pack (1.1 µM). The absence of NH4+ in the snowmelt traversing the snow-ice interface may also point to microbial activity occurring at this boundary layer. Melt modelling indicated the presence of liquid meltwater at the snow-ice interface and that at least 10 cm of the surface ice below the snow pack was at 0°C. Solar radiation transmitted through the thin snow pack to the ice surface is absorbed by pigmented glacier algae causing melt of the surrounding ice, allowing the possibly of photosynthesis to begin under the thinning snowpack in these micro-melt environments. Hence, we conjecture that glacier algal blooms can commence before the snow pack has completely melted, occuring at a time when meltwaters are enhanced in nutrients scavenged from the snowpack, superimposed ice and the remnants of the weathering crust from the previous year.

Original languageEnglish
Article number711560
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Commission (Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, Grant No. 675546). This work was also funded in part by the United Kingdom Natural Environment Research Council Consortium (Black and Bloom (NE/M021025/1)). MT acknowledges support from the ERC during the completion and review of the manuscript (ERC Synergy Grant 856416 DEEP PURPLE).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Holland, Williamson, Tedstone, Anesio and Tranter.

    Research areas

  • dissolved nitrogen, dissolved nutrients, Greenland ice sheet, nutrient release, snow pack, spring thaw

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