Subglacial Lake Whillans microbial biogeochemistry: a synthesis of current knowledge


Liquid water occurs below glaciers and ice sheets globally, enabling the existence of an array of aquatic microbial ecosystems. In Antarctica, large subglacial lakes are present beneath hundreds to thousands of metres of ice, and scientific interest in exploring these environments has escalated over the past decade. After years of planning, the first team of scientists and engineers cleanly accessed and retrieved pristine samples from a West Antarctic subglacial lake ecosystem in January 2013. This paper reviews the findings to date on Subglacial Lake Whillans and presents new supporting data on the carbon and energy metabolism of resident microbes. The analysis of water and sediments from the lake revealed a diverse microbial community composed of bacteria and archaea that are close relatives of species known to use reduced N, S or Fe and CH4 as energy sources. The water chemistry of Subglacial Lake Whillans was dominated by weathering products from silicate minerals with a minor influence from seawater. Contributions to water chemistry from microbial sulfide oxidation and carbonation reactions were supported by genomic data. Collectively, these results provide unequivocal evidence that subglacial environments in this region of West Antarctica host active microbial ecosystems that participate in subglacial biogeochemical cycling.




Mikucki, J. A., P. A. Lee, D. Ghosh, A. M. Purcell, A. C. Mitchell, K. D. Mankoff, A. T. Fisher, et al. “Subglacial Lake Whillans Microbial Biogeochemistry: a Synthesis of Current Knowledge.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 374, no. 2059 (December 14, 2015): 20140290. doi:10.1098/rsta.2014.0290.
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