Microbes influence the biogeochemical and optical properties of maritime Antarctic snow

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“Snowmelt in the Antarctic Peninsula region has increased significantly in recent decades, leading to greater liquid water availability across a more expansive area. As a consequence, changes in the biological activity within wet Antarctic snow require consideration if we are to better understand terrestrial carbon cycling on Earth’s coldest continent. This paper therefore examines the relationship between microbial communities and the chemical and physical environment of wet snow habitats on Livingston Island of the maritime Antarctic. In so doing, we reveal a strong reduction in bacterial diversity and autotrophic biomass within a short (<1  km) distance from the coast. Coastal snowpacks, fertilized by greater amounts of nutrients from rock debris and marine fauna, develop obvious, pigmented snow algal communities that control the absorption of visible light to a far greater extent than with the inland glacial snowpacks. Absorption by carotenoid pigments is most influential at the surface, while chlorophyll is most influential beneath it. The coastal snowpacks also indicate higher concentrations of dissolved inorganic carbon and CO2  in interstitial air, as well as a close relationship between chlorophyll and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). As a consequence, the DOC resource available in coastal snow can support a more diverse bacterial community that includes microorganisms from a range of nearby terrestrial and marine habitats. Therefore, since further expansion of the melt zone will influence glacial snowpacks more than coastal ones, care must be taken when considering the types of communities that may be expected to evolve there.”

Hodson, A. J.,  A. Nowak,  J. Cook,  M. Sabacka,  E. S. Wharfe,  D. A. Pearce,  P. Convey, and  G. Vieira(2017),  Microbes influence the biogeochemical and optical properties of maritime Antarctic snow,  J. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci.,  122,  14561470.


I selected this paper as a means to expand what could be considered as an environment while also wanting to learn more about how changes to the global climate might affect different microbial communities, especially in areas expected to undergo notable change.

I wouldn’t think of travelling to Antarctica to study microbial life, yet this paper explores the communities found there and how a warming climate is affecting both carbon emissions and microbial diversity on what most would consider a barren waste. I found it especially fascinating that microbial activity may actually enhance the melt of Antarctic ice!

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