Geochemical evidence for microbially mediated subglacial mineral weathering
Montross, Scott Norman.
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Interactions between dilute meltwater and fine-grained, freshly comminuted debris at the bed of temperate glaciers liberate significant solute. The proportions of solute produced in the subglacial environment via biotic and abiotic processes remains unknown, however, this work suggests the biotic contribution is substantial. Laboratory analyses of microbiological and geochemical properties of sediment and meltwater from the Haut Glacier d'Arolla (HGA) indicates that a metabolically active microbial community exists in water-saturated sediments at the ice-bedrock interface. Basal sediment slurries and meltwater were incubated in the laboratory for 100 days under near in situ subglacial conditions. Relative proportions of solute produced via abiotic v. biotic mineral weathering were analyzed by comparing the evolved aqueous chemistry of biologically active (live) sediment slurries with sterilized controls.Aqueous chemical analyses indicate an increase in solute produced from mineral weathering coupled with nitrate depletion in the biologically active slurries compared with the killed controls. These results infer that microbial activity at HGA is likely an important contributor to chemical weathering associated solute fluxes from the glaciated catchment. Due to the magnitude of past glaciations throughout geologic time (e.g., Neoproterozoic and Late-Pleistocene), and evidence that subglacial microbial activity impacts mineral weathering, greater consideration needs to be given to cold temperature biogeochemical weathering and its impact on global geochemical cycles.