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Journal of Geophysical Research

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Glaciers -- Microbiology, Glaciers -- Climatic factors -- Arctic regions, Cryoconite holes -- Microbiology


Cryoconite holes are small, water filled, cylindrical melt-holes on glacial ice surface. Cryoconite, 'cold dust,' refers to the thin layer of sediment at the hole bottom. The holes form from surficial sediment patches that absorbs more solar radiation than the surrounding ice and which preferentially melt into the glacier forming a cylindrical water-filled hole. These holes form on the ice-covered, as opposed to snow covered, parts of glaciers world-wide, wherever there is sufficient energy for melting. Biogeochemically, cryoconite holes are interesting because the sediment is inncoculated with biologic material, a fraction of which thrives in the cryoconite environment of near-freezing waters and limited nutrient supply. The holes are thus oases for microbial life and biologically mediated chemical reactions on otherwise relatively inert glacier surfaces. Examining the chemical evolution of waters in cryoconite holes, showing how biogeochemical processes in cryoconite holes lead to increasing concentrations of dissolved organic carbon over time, which in may enhance adsorption of solar radiation by the water, aiding the development of deeper holes. If this is true, it suggests that there are a number of complex interactions between the biology, chemistry and biology of cryoconite holes, which act in concert to maintain life on glacier surfaces.


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