Nitrogen fixation on Arctic glaciers, Svalbard

Jon Telling, Alexandre Magno Anesio, Martyn Tranter, Tristram Irvine-fynn, Andy Hodson, Catriona Butler, Jemma Wadham

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Glacier surfaces contain a wide diversity of microorganisms and can host a range of microbial activities. However, microbial nutrient cycling on glaciers is poorly understood. This study is the first to document nitrogen fixation (nitrogenase activity) on glaciers and demonstrate its importance in supporting microbial growth. Rates of nitrogen fixation (nitrogenase activity) in cryoconite holes on three valley glaciers in Svalbard ranged from <2.0 to 99.9 mu mol ethylene m(-2) d(-1) with rates inversely correlated to concentrations of available inorganic nitrogen. Annual inputs of nitrogen by nitrogen fixation on a glacier catchment scale are more than 2 orders of magnitude lower than the combined nitrogen inputs from snowmelt and rain. However, nitrogen fixation can be important for supporting microbial growth on the glaciers during the middle to late melt season after the snowline has retreated upslope.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberG03039
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue numberG3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


  • Arctic
  • glacier
  • life in extremes
  • microbial growth
  • nitrogen fixation


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