Subsurface In Situ Detection of Microbes and Diverse Organic Matter Hotspots in the Greenland Ice Sheet


We used a deep-ultraviolet fluorescence mapping spectrometer, coupled to a drill system, to scan from the surface to 105 m depth into the Greenland ice sheet. The scan included firn and glacial ice and demonstrated that the instrument is able to determine small (mm) and large (cm) scale regions of organic matter concentration and discriminate spectral types of organic matter at high resolution. Both a linear point cloud scanning mode and a raster mapping mode were used to detect and localize microbial and organic matter “hotspots” embedded in the ice. Our instrument revealed diverse spectral signatures. Most hotspots were <20 mm in diameter, clearly isolated from other hotspots, and distributed stochastically; there was no evidence of layering in the ice at the fine scales examined (100 μm per pixel). The spectral signatures were consistent with organic matter fluorescence from microbes, lignins, fused-ring aromatic molecules, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and biologically derived materials such as fulvic acids. In situ detection of organic matter hotspots in ice prevents loss of spatial information and signal dilution when compared with traditional bulk analysis of ice core meltwaters. Our methodology could be useful for detecting microbial and organic hotspots in terrestrial icy environments and on future missions to the Ocean Worlds of our Solar System.




Malaska, Michael J., Rohit Bhartia, Kenneth S. Manatt, John C. Priscu, William J. Abbey, Boleslaw Mellerowicz, Joseph Palmowski, et al. “Subsurface In Situ Detection of Microbes and Diverse Organic Matter Hotspots in the Greenland Ice Sheet.” Astrobiology 20, no. 10 (October 1, 2020): 1185–1211. doi:10.1089/ast.2020.2241
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