• Dr Aga Nowak

There is much more to Antarctic snow than we thought!

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

Read about microbial power plants and buried ecosystems. Find out why we should return to significant field research in Antarctica!

All this & much more in Frontiers in Earth Science



What is it about?


Despite scientific interest in the investigation of biogeochemical changes in meltwaters of the Antarctic Peninsula, we still lack an understanding of the seasonal dynamics and release of dissolved and particulate carbon, nutrients, as well as trace metals from Antarctic snowpacks.


Harsh conditions, lack of appreciation of the heterogeneity of the environment, as well as logistical constraints during fieldwork mean there is great demand for more detailed and comprehensive research.


A unique, comprehensive study of snowpack biogeochemistry was performed in the Ryder Bay area of the Antarctic Peninsula quantify for the first time, seasonal dynamics and export of dissolved carbon, in-vivochlorophyll, nutrient, and trace metals from Antarctic snowpack in various locations.


Our study uncovered the importance of environmental heterogeneity with respect to the export of solutes and carbon.


A distinctive split in the temporal dynamics of solute export was found, suggesting that some solutes are rapidly delivered to coastal environments early in the summer whilst others are delivered more gradually throughout it.


Coastal, low elevation snowpacks were identified as “power plants” of microbial activity, playing an important role in the regulation of land-ocean fluxes of labile carbon and bio-limiting macro- and micro-nutrients.


An example of a coastal low elevation snowpack in Antarctica. Photo by Aga Nowak

We also found that multiannual snow residing deep below the surface can further contribute to biogeochemical enrichment of coastal ecosystems.


An example of enriched multiannual snow. Photo by Aga Nowak

Additionally, inland snowpack have been identified as a store for nutrients, dissolved organic carbon and chlorophyll.


An example of much thicker, located on higher elevation, inland snowpack with no direct connection to the sea. Photo by Aga Nowak

Lastly, we show that a number of factors (environmental characteristics, geochemical heterogeneity, and internal biogeochemical processes in snow) make simple snowpack surveys insufficient for the prediction of biogeochemical fluxes carried by snowmelt runoff into the marine environment.


A return to significant fieldwork-based research in Antarctica is therefore necessary to advance our knowledge of the complex biogeochemical processes occurring there.


Setting up a monitoring zone parimeter at the begining of ablation season. Photo by Andy Hodson

This study provides crucial data and process insights for more accurate predictions of how changing climate will influence the Antarctic carbon cycle and the globally important Southern Ocean ecosystem.

Text modified from Frontiers in Earth Science


#Frontiers #womeninpolarscience #womeninscience #snowpackhydrology #organiccarbon #Antarcticpeninsula #carboncycle #snowecology #snowbiogeochemistry #Antarcticfieldwork #Antarcticresearch #Antarctica #Antarcticsnow #climatechange

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