Biogenic production of climatic amplifiers under ice

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Geographical Sciences

Abstract

Carbon is one of the essential elements required for life to exist, alongside energy and liquid water. In contrast to other parts of the Earth's biosphere, cycling of carbon compounds beneath glaciers and ice sheets is poorly understood, since these environments were believed to be devoid of life until recently. Significant populations of micro-organisms have recently been found beneath ice masses (Sharp et al., 1999; Skidmore et al., 2000; Foght et al., 2004). Evidence shows that, as in other watery environments on Earth, these sub-ice microbes are able to process a variety of carbon forms over a range of conditions, producing greenhouse gases, such as CO2 and CH4 (Skidmore et al., 2000). Almost nothing is known about 1) the range of carbon compounds available to microbes beneath ice, 2) the degree to which they can be used as food by microbes and 3) the rates of utilisation and the full spectrum of products (e.g. gases). This information is important for understanding the global carbon cycle on Earth. The fate of large amounts of organic carbon during the advance of the glaciers over the boreal forest during the last ice age (Van Campo et al., 1993), for example, is unknown and is likely to depend fundamentally on microbial processes in sub-ice environments. Current models of Earth's global carbon cycle assume this carbon is 'lost' from the Earth's system (Adarns et al., 1990; Van Campo et al., 1993; Francois et al., 1999). The possibility that it is used by subglacial microbes and converted to CO2 and CH4 has not been considered. This may have potential for explaining variations in Earth's atmospheric greenhouse gas composition over the last 2 million years. Sub-glacial environments lacking a modern carbon supply (e.g. trees, microbial cells) may represent ideal model systems for icy habitats on other terrestrial planets (e.g. Mars and Jupiter moons; Clifford, 1987; Pathare et al. 1998; Kivelson et al. 2000), and may be used to help determine whether life is possible in these more extreme systems.

Publications

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Bhatia M (2013) Organic carbon export from the Greenland ice sheet in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

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Death R (2014) Antarctic ice sheet fertilises the Southern Ocean in Biogeosciences

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Lawson E (2013) Greenland Ice Sheet exports labile organic carbon to the Arctic oceans in Biogeosciences Discussions

 
Description Methane is produced microbially beneath ice sheets

Large accumulations of methane hydrate may reside beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet
Exploitation Route Our findings have been used to constrain biogeochemical models applied to ice sheets
Sectors Environment

 
Description Sub-ice sheet weathering: a missing link in the global silicon cycle?
Amount £262,000 (GBP)
Funding ID RPG-2016-439 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 05/2021
 
Description UKIERI: Bio-climatic feedbacks of melting Himalayan Ice
Amount £198,000 (GBP)
Organisation UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2020
 
Description Collaboration in Greenland 
Organisation Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Advice on methods and method develop for hydrology work in Greenland
Collaborator Contribution collaborative discussions, one paper published
Impact Bhatia, M. S. Das, M. Charette, J.L. Wadham, E.B. Kujawinski. 2013. Organic carbon export from the Greenland Ice Sheet, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, doi: http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/j.gca.2013.02.006
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaboration with Thermofisher Scientific 
Organisation Thermo Fisher Scientific
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Thermo. commissioned our laboratory to perform a Ion Chromatograph system inter-comparison for the analysis of natural waters
Collaborator Contribution We are undertaking the inter comparison project
Impact A short film has been produced (see engagement outputs), the results will be used to improve the current technology
Start Year 2015
 
Description Cornerstone Film for Thermofisher Scientific 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Thermofisher Scientific commissioned a short film on the use of Ion Chromatography in cryospheric sciences. This film will go live in 2016 and will result in follow on funding from the company. Please see link to the film on Jemma Wadham's Research Home Pages (see link below)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bristol.ac.uk/geography/people/jemma-l-wadham/research.html
 
Description Invited research seminar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Wadham invited to give a research seminar at WHOI, based upon her work on Greenland biogeochemistry and sensor development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Partnership with the BBC on documentary on BBC4 on "Dangerous Earth: Icebergs" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Wadham was a lead scientist on this BBC4 documentary, which communicated the impacts of icebergs on the rest of the planet. She participated in filming and appeared in the final product in December 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Research Seminars - National University of Singapore, Imperial College London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Follow up correspondence and requests for further info have been made.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Science presentations at 7 international schools in Hong Kong and China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Email follow up has happened. Further information has been requested.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
 
Description Study of Environmental Arctic Change working group invitation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Wadham was invited to participate in this working group which aims to undertake an assessment of the impact of a warming climate upon Arctic methane emissions. Engagement activities will follow, together with a white paper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description UoB Bristol Glaciology Centre outreach at Room 13 Hareclive (Bristol Ice Explorers) - Jon Hawkings (PhD student), Professor Martyn Tranter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact sparked lots of discussion

An art competition for the local school children was launched, focussed on glacial environments
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.room13hareclive.org.uk/news