Predictions of climate change draw increasing scientific attention to the fertilisation potential of the Antarctic Peninsula for the Southern Ocean and consequently global ecosystems. Although the scientific community is becoming aware of a marked heterogeneity in the chemical signature of meltwaters and the snowpack across Antarctica, we are still estimating nutrient fluxes from the Antarctic continent based on point measurements and assumptions that nutrient production is uniform across the whole region.
Our understanding of the sources and processes influencing concentrations of nutrients is also far from complete. For example, it is widely accepted that ice-melt nutrients take part in microbially mediated reactions yet, nutrient dynamics in snow are usually thought to be associated with inorganic processes and the microbial contribution remains virtually unexplored. Such a knowledge gap is surprising, considering the efforts put into constraining Antarctica’s contribution to the global carbon cycle, reconstructing past climates from ice core records, or predicting changes in terrestrial and marine ecosystems as Antarctica responds to climate warming.
Research funded by the Britih Antarctic Survey (project CASS-120) showed the importance of snowpack in carbon storage and release during the onset of melt. In addition, research in Antarctica showed for the first time that low elevation coastal environments can be identified as power plants of microbial activity producing waters up to 500% more concentrated in dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen than elsewhere.
Inland environments buried under thick layer of snow are also very productive and rich in chlorophyll, suggesting that satellite measurements of snowpack chlorophyll in Antarctica do not yield true values, and prediction for carbon storage and its later release with the melting ice need to take that into consideration.
Research on dynamics of other nutrients also indicated that Antarctic meltwaters supply more acid-soluble iron to coastal ecosystems than icebergs (that used to be considered a primary source of iron), and that glacial weathering is responsible for creation of hotspots of biological production in otherwise iron depleted Southern Ocean.
Read more in:
Nowak A., Hodson A., Turchyn AV. 2018. Spatial and temporal dynamics of dissolved organic carbon, chlorophyll, nutrients and trance metals in maritime Antarctic snow and snowmelt. Frontiers in Earth Science, 6: DOI: /10.3389/feart.2018.00201
Organic carbon in the snow of maritime Antarctica;
characteristics, dynamics and processes influencing Fe, N and P delivery to terrestrial and marine ecosystems
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