Subglacial (bio)geochemical weathering and the unexplored Antarctic system

A. C. Mitchell, B. C. Christner, J. Mikucki, J. C. Priscu

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Water exported from Alpine and polar glaciers is often concentrated in a range of major ions, and minor and trace elements, derived from the dissolution of subglacial rocks and minerals. The export of these species from subglacial environments to the oceans via subglacial hydrological systems appears to constitute an important global flux of biochemically essential species, such as Fe, potentially impacting upon plankton activity in the oceans and the associated consumption of CO2 on glacial-interglacial timescales. Recent studies have demonstrated the presence and activity of microorganisms in a range of subglacial environments, from Alpine glaciers, Arctic glaciers, and most recently in sub-Antarctic systems. Equally, isotopic studies at Alpine and Arctic glaciers provide evidence that microbe-mineral associations occur in subglacial environments, and account for the release and transformation of dissolved nutrients. However, the link between microbiological presence & activity, mineral weathering, ionic species transformations, and the configuration of the subglacial hydrological system, remains poorly understood. We will report on Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD), an NSF funded integrative study of ice sheet stability and life habitats in sub Antarctic aquatic environments. Direct sterile sampling from a subglacial Antarctic lake and grounding zone, will allow us for the first time to address these gaps in our knowledge, to determine the role of microbes on the weathering of rocks and the release and transport of nutrients in and from the unexplored sub-Antarctic environment. These data will yield seminal information on these systems and test the overarching hypothesis that active hydrological systems connect various subglacial environments and exert major control on geochemistry, metabolic and phylogenetic diversity, and biogeochemical transformations, as well as ice sheet dynamics. This will provide a basis for understanding the importance of subglacial hydrological-geochemical-microbiological interactions in the past, and in the future, at glacial-interglacial timescales.
Original languageEnglish
Pagesabstract #U53C-09
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2009
EventAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - San Francisco, United States of America
Duration: 14 Dec 200918 Dec 2009
Conference number: 2009


ConferenceAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
Abbreviated titleAGU
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
CitySan Francisco
Period14 Dec 200918 Dec 2009


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