Meltwater export of prokaryotic cells from the Greenland ice sheet

Karen Cameron, Marek Stibal, Jon Hawkings, Andreas Mikkelsen, Jon Telling, Tyler J. Kohler, Erkin Gözdereliler, Jakub D. Zarsky, Jemma L. Wadham, Carsten Jacobsen

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Microorganisms are flushed from the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) where they may contribute towards the nutrient cycling and community compositions of downstream ecosystems. We investigate meltwater microbial assemblages as they exit the GrIS from a large outlet glacier, and as they enter a downstream river delta during the record melt year of 2012. Prokaryotic abundance, flux and community composition was studied, and factors affecting community structures were statistically considered. The mean concentration of cells exiting the ice sheet was 8.30 × 104 cells mL-1 and we estimate that ∼1.02 × 1021 cells were transported to the downstream fjord in 2012, equivalent to 30.95 Mg of carbon. Prokaryotic microbial assemblages were dominated by Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Actinobacteria. Cell concentrations and community compositions were stable throughout the sample period, and were statistically similar at both sample sites. Based on our observations, we argue that the subglacial environment is the primary source of the river-transported microbiota, and that cell export from the GrIS is dependent on discharge. We hypothesise that the release of subglacial microbiota to downstream ecosystems will increase as freshwater flux from the GrIS rises in a warming world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)524-534
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Early online date04 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2017


  • bacteria
  • bioinformatics
  • microbial communities
  • microbial ecology
  • microbially-influenced global change
  • microbiology of unexplored habitats


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