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Dissolved gases in frozen basal water from the NGRIP borehole: implications for biogeochemical processes beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet

Abstract

Little information exists on biogeochemical transformations in aquatic ecosystems beneath polar ice sheets (i.e., water-saturated sediments, streams, rivers, and lakes) and their role in global elemental cycles. Subglacial environments may represent important sources of atmospheric CO2 and/or CH4 during deglaciation, thus acting as amplifiers in the climate system. However, the role of subglacial environments in global climate processes has been difficult to assess given the absence of biogeochemical data from the basal zones of inland polar ice sheets. Here, we report on the concentrations of CO2, CH4, and H2 in samples of refrozen basal water recovered at a depth of ~3,042 meters below the surface during the North Greenland Ice Core Project (NGRIP). CH4 and H2 concentrations in the NGRIP samples were approximately 60- and 700-fold higher, respectively, relative to air-equilibrated water, whereas CO2 was ~fivefold lower. Metabolic pathways such as (1) methanogenesis, (2) organic matter fermentation, carboxydotrophic, and/or methylotrophic activity, and (3) CO2 fixation provide plausible biotic explanations for the observed CH4, H2, and CO2 concentrations, respectively.

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Acknowledgments

The ice cores in this study were recovered during the NGRIP ice core project, which was directed by the Ice and Climate Research Group at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen and funded by agencies in Denmark (FNU), Belgium (FNRS-CFB), France (IPEV and INSU/CNRS), Germany (AWI), Iceland (RannIs), Japan (MEXT), Sweden (SPRS), Switzerland (SNF), and the USA (NSF, Office of Polar Programs). We especially acknowledge NGRIP project leader Dorthe Dahl-Jensen for organizing the NGRIP basal ice working group and providing ice core samples for analysis. We also thank D. Mogk and M. Skidmore for assistance with SEM–EDS, S. Busse for assistance with the NMR measurements and interpretation, and G. King for discussion. Travel funding for Brent C. Christner to visit the University of Copenhagen was provided by the Arctic Natural Sciences Program of the NSF. This study was partially supported by NSF grants OPP-0636828, OPP-0838941, and OPP-1023233 awarded to Brent C. Christner, and OPP-0838933, OPP-0839075, OPP-1027284 and NASA NAI5-0021 awarded to John C. Priscu.

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Correspondence to Brent C. Christner.

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Christner, B.C., Montross, G.G. & Priscu, J.C. Dissolved gases in frozen basal water from the NGRIP borehole: implications for biogeochemical processes beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet. Polar Biol 35, 1735–1741 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-012-1198-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-012-1198-z

Keywords

  • Ice sheets
  • Subglacial environments
  • Greenland
  • Microbial biogeochemistry
  • Greenhouse gases