, Volume 98, Issue 1–3, pp 171–184 | Cite as

Glacier ecosystem response to episodic nitrogen enrichment in Svalbard, European High Arctic

  • Andy HodsonEmail author
  • Tjarda Jane Roberts
  • Anne-Christin Engvall
  • Kim Holmén
  • Paul Mumford


We describe the climatology, hydrology and biogeochemistry of an extreme nitrogen deposition event that occurred in the highly glacierised environment of the European High Arctic during June 1999. Meteorological analysis, three-dimensional air mass trajectories and a 3D transport model show that blocking high pressures over Scandinavia and the rapid advection of western European pollution toward Svalbard were sufficient to cause the most concentrated (1.15 ppm NO3–N and 1.20 ppm NH4–N), high magnitude (total 26 mm and up to 2.4 mm h−1 at 30 m above sea level) nitrogen deposition event on record in this sensitive, high Arctic environment (78.91° N, 11.93° E). Since the event occurred when much of the catchment remained frozen or under snow cover, microbial utilisation of nitrogen within snowpacks and perennially unfrozen subglacial sediments, rather than soils, were mostly responsible for reducing N export. The rainfall event occurred long before the annual subglacial outburst flood and so prolonged (ca. 10 day) water storage at the glacier bed further enhanced the microbial assimilation. When the subglacial outburst eventually occurred, high runoff and concentrations of NO3 (but not NH4 +) returned in the downstream rivers. Assimilation accounted for between 53 and 72% of the total inorganic nitrogen deposited during the event, but the annual NO3 and NH4 + runoff yields were still enhanced by up to 5 and 40 times respectively. Episodic atmospheric inputs of reactive nitrogen can therefore directly influence the biogeochemical functioning of High Arctic catchments, even when microbial activity takes place beneath a glacier at a time when terrestrial soil ecosystems remain frozen and unresponsive.


Nitrogen enrichment Arctic ecosystems Arctic glaciers Meltwater biogeochemistry 



Hodson, Roberts and Holmén acknowledge NERC grant GR8/04339 (to Hodson) and an EU Marie Curie Initial Stage Training Network award NSINK (FP7 215503). We thank NILU for chemical analysis of precipitation and aerosol sampling, and provision of these data via EMEP, and Wenche Aas (NILU) for useful discussions. Two reviewers and the Associate Editor, Eran Hood, helped improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andy Hodson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tjarda Jane Roberts
    • 2
  • Anne-Christin Engvall
    • 3
  • Kim Holmén
    • 2
  • Paul Mumford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  2. 2.Norwegian Polar InstituteTromsøNorway
  3. 3.Department of MeteorologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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