“Investigation of the export of glacially derived carbon to downstream terrestrial and marine environments of the High Arctic “

Funding source: Royal Geographical Society with IBG – Small Research Grant (2016)

P.I.: Dr Aga Nowak
Department of Geography,
The University of Sheffield,
Winter Street,
S10 1JB,
Contact: a.nowak@sheffield.ac.uk

In the past decade, glaciers have been recognised as biomes able to host a complex microbial ecosystem. Studies are beginning to show that autotrophic and heterotrophic communities living on ice surfaces contribute to the global carbon cycle by utilization and simultaneous production of CO2 and organic carbon (OC). The production is thought to be comparable to that of soils in warmer, nutrient-rich regions and leads to a potential fix of up to 6.4x1010g/a of atmospheric CO2. This amount may however be five orders of magnitude smaller than the amount of OC stored in glaciers. Every summer a portion of that OC is released to downstream environments, yet we know surprisingly little of its regional and seasonal dynamics. Additionally, snowpack release of OC is yet to be characterised. Those research gaps are surprising considering that glacial OC is a preferable food source for downstream microorganisms and climate induced glacial melt is predicted to continue increasing.

This project addresses the above knowledge gaps by, a rare for Polar Regions, simultaneous investigation of multiple High Arctic glacierised catchments during the entire ablation season.

Between May and September 2016 over 300 samples were collected from three monitoring sites in the across Adventdalen (Svalbard). A special attention was devoted to the snowmelt period during which daily snowmelt sampling and snowpack thickness measurements were performed. In addition to the above, multiple gauging stations were installed across Adventdalen producing hourly values of the water level, temperature and electrical conductivity. Manual water discharge measurements were performed throughout the summer to calibrate stage data from all logging stations and to produce meltseason carbon fluxes into downstream marine environment.

Such an extensive and detailed field campaign in the harsh environment of Svalbard, which is one of the fastest responding regions to the climate change, will improve our understanding of climate induced ecological changes in the Arctic and glacial influence on the global carbon cycle.

Aga Nowak