Extreme hydrochemical conditions in natural microcosms entombed within Antarctic ice

Tranter, M., Fountain, A.G., Fritsen, C.H., Lyons, W.B., Priscu, J.C., Statham, P.J. and Welch, K.A. (2004) Extreme hydrochemical conditions in natural microcosms entombed within Antarctic ice Hydrological Processes, 18, (2), pp. 379-387. (doi:10.1002/hyp.5217).


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Cryoconite holes are near-vertical tubes that form in the surface of glaciers when solar-heated debris melts into the ice. Those that form in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are distinctive, in that they have ice lids and are closed to the atmosphere for periods of years to decades. Photoautotrophs and heterotrophs grow within this closed environment, perturbing the poorly buffered water chemistry, yet maintaining the potential for photosynthesis. Microbial excretion and decomposition of organic matter produces dissolved organic carbon (DOC): dissolved inorganic carbon ratios of ?1 : 2. Much of the dissolved nitrogen pool (80–100%) exists as dissolved organic nitrogen (DON). The DON:DOC ratio is ?1 : 11 (mol/mol), typical of organic particulate material at the Earth’s surface. The combination of photoautotrophy, heterotrophy and weak chemical buffering within these microcosms promotes values of pH, pCO2, O2 saturation and percentage total dissolved nitrogen as DON that reach 10·99, 10?7·6 atm, 160% and 100% respectively, which are a unique combination among the surface waters on Earth. These ice-sealed cryoconite holes could be important analogues of refugia on Snowball Earth and other icy planets.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1002/hyp.5217
ISSNs: 1099-1085 (print)
Related URLs:
Keywords: cryconite, Antarctica, glacier ice, microcosms
ePrint ID: 9878
Date :
Date Event
Date Deposited: 14 Oct 2004
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2017 00:00
Further Information:Google Scholar
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/9878

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