Although subglacial aquatic environments are widespread beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, subglacial biogeochemistry is not well understood, and the contribution of subglacial water to coastal ocean carbon and nutrient cycling remains poorly constrained. The Whillans Subglacial Lake (SLW) ecosystem is upstream from West Antarctica's Gould‐Siple Coast ~800 m beneath the surface of the Whillans Ice Stream. SLW hosts an active microbial ecosystem and is part of an active hydrological system that drains into the marine cavity beneath the adjacent Ross Ice Shelf. Here we examine sources and sinks for organic matter in the lake and estimate the freshwater carbon and nutrient delivery from discharges into the coastal embayment. Fluorescence‐based characterization of dissolved organic matter revealed microbially driven differences between sediment pore waters and lake water, with an increasing contribution from relict humic‐like dissolved organic matter with sediment depth. Mass balance calculations indicated that the pool of dissolved organic carbon in the SLW water column could be produced in 4.8 to 11.9 yr, which is a time frame similar to that of the lakes’ fill‐drain cycle. Based on these estimates, subglacial lake water discharged at the Siple Coast could supply an average of 5,400% more than the heterotrophic carbon demand within Siplemore »
Throughout coastal Antarctica, ice shelves separate oceanic waters from sunlight by hundreds of meters of ice. Historical studies have detected activity of nitrifying microorganisms in oceanic cavities below permanent ice shelves. However, little is known about the microbial composition and pathways that mediate these activities. In this study, we profiled the microbial communities beneath the Ross Ice Shelf using a multi-omics approach. Overall, beneath-shelf microorganisms are of comparable abundance and diversity, though distinct composition, relative to those in the open meso- and bathypelagic ocean. Production of new organic carbon is likely driven by aerobic lithoautotrophic archaea and bacteria that can use ammonium, nitrite, and sulfur compounds as electron donors. Also enriched were aerobic organoheterotrophic bacteria capable of degrading complex organic carbon substrates, likely derived from in situ fixed carbon and potentially refractory organic matter laterally advected by the below-shelf waters. Altogether, these findings uncover a taxonomically distinct microbial community potentially adapted to a highly oligotrophic marine environment and suggest that ocean cavity waters are primarily chemosynthetically-driven systems.
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