Original Paper

Polar Biology

, Volume 35, Issue 9, pp 1375-1393

First online:

Carbon and nitrogen biogeochemical cycling potentials of supraglacial cryoconite communities

  • Karen A. CameronAffiliated withDepartment of Animal and Plant Sciences, The University of SheffieldApplied Physics Laboratory, Polar Science Center, University of Washington Email author 
  • , Andrew J. HodsonAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, The University of SheffieldDepartment of Arctic Geology, The University Centre in Svalbard
  • , A. Mark OsbornAffiliated withDepartment of Animal and Plant Sciences, The University of SheffieldDepartment of Biological Science, University of Hull

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Microorganisms have a crucial role to play in the cycling of nutrients within glacial environments. These systems are often nutrient-limited, and so biogeochemical reactions, which ensure the availability of nutrients for microbial communities, are critical for the maintenance of these systems. This study uses molecular biology to characterise the supraglacial cryoconite microbial communities that are capable of cycling carbon and nitrogen in a range of glacial environments. Organisms with the potential to photosynthesise were identified, including Cyanobacteria, Actinobacteria, Betaproteobacteria, Stramenopiles and Haptophyceae. Organisms with the potential to perform nitrification and denitrification processes were also identified and featured Betaproteobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria, Thaumarchaeota and Cyanobacteria. While it is unlikely that the chemical and physical parameters of the supraglacial environment will facilitate optimal rates of all of the nitrogen-related biogeochemical processes, the transport of these cryoconite communities to downstream locations, where more favourable conditions may prevail, will perhaps provide a valuable inoculation of microorganisms with the genetic potential to catalyse these reactions elsewhere.


Glacier Cryoconite Microbial diversity Biogeochemical Carbon Nitrogen