Discovery of a hypersaline subglacial lake complex beneath Devon Ice Cap, Canadian Arctic.
ABSTRACT: Subglacial lakes are unique environments that, despite the extreme dark and cold conditions, have been shown to host microbial life. Many subglacial lakes have been discovered beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, but no spatially isolated water body has been documented as hypersaline. We use radio-echo sounding measurements to identify two subglacial lakes situated in bedrock troughs near the ice divide of Devon Ice Cap, Canadian Arctic. Modeled basal ice temperatures in the lake area are no higher than -10.5°C, suggesting that these lakes consist of hypersaline water. This implication of hypersalinity is in agreement with the surrounding geology, which indicates that the subglacial lakes are situated within an evaporite-rich sediment unit containing a bedded salt sequence, which likely act as the solute source for the brine. Our results reveal the first evidence for subglacial lakes in the Canadian Arctic and the first hypersaline subglacial lakes reported to date. We conclude that these previously unknown hypersaline subglacial lakes may represent significant and largely isolated microbial habitats, and are compelling analogs for potential ice-covered brine lakes and lenses on planetary bodies across the solar system.
Project description:Recent proxy measurements reveal that subglacial lakes beneath modern ice sheets periodically store and release large volumes of water, providing an important but poorly understood influence on contemporary ice dynamics and mass balance. This is because direct observations of how lake drainage initiates and proceeds are lacking. Here we present physical evidence of the mechanism and geometry of lake drainage from the discovery of relict subglacial lakes formed during the last glaciation in Canada. These palaeo-subglacial lakes comprised shallow (<10 m) lenses of water perched behind ridges orientated transverse to ice flow. We show that lakes periodically drained through channels incised into bed substrate (canals). Canals sometimes trend into eskers that represent the depositional imprint of the last high-magnitude lake outburst. The subglacial lakes and channels are preserved on top of glacial lineations, indicating long-term re-organization of the subglacial drainage system and coupling to ice flow.
Project description:Few subglacial lakes have been identified beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) despite extensive documentation in Antarctica, where periodic release of water can impact ice flow. Here we present an ice-sheet-wide survey of Greenland subglacial lakes, identifying 54 candidates from airborne radio-echo sounding, and 2 lakes from ice-surface elevation changes. These range from 0.2-5.9?km in length, and are mostly distributed away from ice divides, beneath relatively slow-moving ice. Based on our results and previous observations, we suggest three zones of formation: stable lakes in northern and eastern regions above the Equilibrium Line Altitude (ELA) but away from the interior; hydrologically-active lakes near the ELA recharged by surface meltwater and; small, seasonally-active lakes below the ELA, which form over winter and drain during the melt season. These observations provide important constraints on the GrIS's basal thermal regime and help refine our understanding of the subglacial hydrological system.
Project description:Recovery Ice Stream has a substantial number of active subglacial lakes that are observed, with satellite altimetry, to grow and drain over multiple years. These lakes store and release water that could be important for controlling the velocity of the ice stream. We apply a subglacial hydrology model to analyze lake growth and drainage characteristics together with the simultaneous development of the ice stream hydrological network. Our outputs produce a good match between modeled lake location and those identified using satellite altimetry for many of the lakes. The modeled subglacial system demonstrates development of pressure waves that initiate at the ice stream neck and transit to within 100 km of the terminus. These waves alter the hydraulic potential of the ice stream and encourage growth and drainage of the subglacial lakes. Lake drainage can cause large R-channels to develop between basal overdeepenings that persist for multiple years. The pressure waves, along with lake growth and drainage rates, do not identically repeat over multiple years, due to basal network development. This suggests that the subglacial hydrology of Recovery Ice Stream is influenced by regional drainage development on the scale of hundreds of kilometers rather than local conditions over tens of kilometers.
Project description:Subglacial lakes beneath the Vatnajökull ice cap in Iceland host endemic communities of microorganisms adapted to cold, dark and nutrient-poor waters, but the mechanisms by which these microbes disseminate under the ice and colonize these lakes are unknown. We present new data on this subglacial microbiome generated from samples of two subglacial lakes, a subglacial flood and a lake that was formerly subglacial but now partly exposed to the atmosphere. These data include parallel 16S rRNA gene amplicon libraries constructed using novel primers that span the v3-v5 and v4-v6 hypervariable regions. Archaea were not detected in either subglacial lake, and the communities are dominated by only five bacterial taxa. Our paired libraries are highly concordant for the most abundant taxa, but estimates of diversity (abundance-based coverage estimator) in the v4-v6 libraries are 3-8 times higher than in corresponding v3-v5 libraries. The dominant taxa are closely related to cultivated anaerobes and microaerobes, and may occupy unique metabolic niches in a chemoautolithotrophic ecosystem. The populations of the major taxa in the subglacial lakes are indistinguishable (>99% sequence identity), despite separation by 6?km and an ice divide; one taxon is ubiquitous in our Vatnajökull samples. We propose that the glacial bed is connected through an aquifer in the underlying permeable basalt, and these subglacial lakes are colonized from a deeper, subterranean microbiome.
Project description:Across the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, widespread ice retreat during the 20th century has sharply accelerated since 2004. In Sverdrup Pass, central Ellesmere Island, rapid glacier retreat is exposing intact plant communities whose radiocarbon dates demonstrate entombment during the Little Ice Age (1550-1850 AD). The exhumed bryophyte assemblages have exceptional structural integrity (i.e., setae, stem structures, leaf hair points) and have remarkable species richness (60 of 144 extant taxa in Sverdrup Pass). Although the populations are often discolored (blackened), some have developed green stem apices or lateral branches suggesting in vivo regrowth. To test their biological viability, Little Ice Age populations emerging from the ice margin were collected for in vitro growth experiments. Our results include a unique successful regeneration of subglacial bryophytes following 400 y of ice entombment. This finding demonstrates the totipotent capacity of bryophytes, the ability of a cell to dedifferentiate into a meristematic state (analogous to stem cells) and develop a new plant. In polar ecosystems, regrowth of bryophyte tissue buried by ice for 400 y significantly expands our understanding of their role in recolonization of polar landscapes (past or present). Regeneration of subglacial bryophytes broadens the concept of Ice Age refugia, traditionally confined to survival of land plants to sites above and beyond glacier margins. Our results emphasize the unrecognized resilience of bryophytes, which are commonly overlooked vis-a-vis their contribution to the establishment, colonization, and maintenance of polar terrestrial ecosystems.
Project description:Based on the strong aggregation of sympagic (ice-associated) algae and the high mortality or inactivity of bacteria attached to them, it was previously hypothesized that sympagic algae should be significant contributors to the export of carbon to Arctic sediments. In the present work, the lipid content of 30 sediment samples collected in the Canadian Arctic was investigated to test this hypothesis. The detection of high proportions of <i>trans</i> vaccenic fatty acid (resulting from <i>cis-trans</i> isomerase (CTI) activity of bacteria under hypersaline conditions) and 10<i>S</i>-hydroxyhexadec-8(<i>trans</i>)-enoic acid (resulting from 10<i>S</i>-DOX bacterial detoxification activity in the presence of deleterious free palmitoleic acid) confirmed: (i) the strong contribution of sympagic material to some Arctic sediments, and (ii) the impaired physiological status of its associated bacterial communities. Unlike terrestrial material, sympagic algae that had escaped zooplanktonic grazing appeared relatively preserved from biotic degradation in Arctic sediments. The expected reduction in sea ice cover resulting from global warming should cause a shift in the relative contributions of ice-associated vs. pelagic algae to the seafloor, and thus to a strong modification of the carbon cycle.
Project description:The contribution of the Greenland ice sheet to sea-level rise has accelerated in recent decades. Subglacial lake drainage events can induce an ice sheet dynamic response--a process that has been observed in Antarctica, but not yet in Greenland, where the presence of subglacial lakes has only recently been discovered. Here we investigate the water flow paths from a subglacial lake, which drained beneath the Greenland ice sheet in 2011. Our observations suggest that the lake was fed by surface meltwater flowing down a nearby moulin, and that the draining water reached the ice margin via a subglacial tunnel. Interferometric synthetic aperture radar-derived measurements of ice surface motion acquired in 1995 suggest that a similar event may have occurred 16 years earlier, and we propose that, as the climate warms, increasing volumes of surface meltwater routed to the bed will cause such events to become more common in the future.
Project description:The physical and chemical factors that can limit or prevent microbial growth in the deep subsurface are not well defined. Brines from an evaporite sequence were sampled in the Boulby Mine, United Kingdom between 800 and 1300 m depth. Ionic, hydrogen and oxygen isotopic composition were used to identify two brine sources, an aquifer situated in strata overlying the mine, and another ambiguous source distinct from the regional groundwater. The ability of the brines to support microbial replication was tested with culturing experiments using a diversity of inocula. The examined brines were found to be permissive for growth, except one. Testing this brine's physicochemical properties showed it to have low water activity and to be chaotropic, which we attribute to the high concentration of magnesium and chloride ions. Metagenomic sequencing of the brines that supported growth showed their microbial communities to be similar to each other and comparable to those found in other hypersaline environments. These data show that solutions high in dissolved ions can shape the microbial diversity of the continental deep subsurface biosphere. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, complex brines can establish a hard limit to microbial replication in the deep biosphere, highlighting the potential for subsurface uninhabitable aqueous environments at depths far shallower than a geothermally-defined limit to life.
Project description:The Eurasian basin of the Central Arctic Ocean is nitrogen limited, but little is known about the presence and role of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Recent studies have indicated the occurrence of diazotrophs in Arctic coastal waters potentially of riverine origin. Here, we investigated the presence of diazotrophs in ice and surface waters of the Central Arctic Ocean in the summer of 2012. We identified diverse communities of putative diazotrophs through targeted analysis of the nifH gene, which encodes the iron protein of the nitrogenase enzyme. We amplified 529 nifH sequences from 26 samples of Arctic melt ponds, sea ice and surface waters. These sequences resolved into 43 clusters at 92% amino acid sequence identity, most of which were non-cyanobacterial phylotypes from sea ice and water samples. One cyanobacterial phylotype related to Nodularia sp. was retrieved from sea ice, suggesting that this important functional group is rare in the Central Arctic Ocean. The diazotrophic community in sea-ice environments appear distinct from other cold-adapted diazotrophic communities, such as those present in the coastal Canadian Arctic, the Arctic tundra and glacial Antarctic lakes. Molecular fingerprinting of nifH and the intergenic spacer region of the rRNA operon revealed differences between the communities from river-influenced Laptev Sea waters and those from ice-related environments pointing toward a marine origin for sea-ice diazotrophs. Our results provide the first record of diazotrophs in the Central Arctic and suggest that microbial nitrogen fixation may occur north of 77°N. To assess the significance of nitrogen fixation for the nitrogen budget of the Arctic Ocean and to identify the active nitrogen fixers, further biogeochemical and molecular biological studies are needed.
Project description:Subglacial lakes are widespread beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet but their control on ice-sheet dynamics and their ability to harbour life remain poorly characterized. Here we present evidence for a palaeo-subglacial lake on the Antarctic continental shelf. A distinct sediment facies recovered from a bedrock basin in Pine Island Bay indicates deposition within a low-energy lake environment. Diffusive-advection modelling demonstrates that low chloride concentrations in the pore water of the corresponding sediments can only be explained by initial deposition of this facies in a freshwater setting. These observations indicate that an active subglacial meltwater network, similar to that observed beneath the extant ice sheet, was also active during the last glacial period. It also provides a new framework for refining the exploration of these unique environments.