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Microbes influence the biogeochemical and optical properties of maritime Antarctic snow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Andrew Hodson
  • A Nowak
  • Joseph M Cook
  • Marie Sabacka
  • ES Wharfe
  • DA Pearce
  • Peter Convey
  • G Viera
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1456-1470
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number6
Early online date17 Jun 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 15 May 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jun 2017
DatePublished (current) - 17 Jun 2017


Snowmelt in the Antarctic Peninsula region has increased significantly in recent decades, leading to greater liquid water availability across a more expansive area. As a consequence, changes in the biological activity within wet Antarctic snow require consideration if we are to better understand terrestrial carbon cycling on Earth's coldest continent. This paper therefore examines the relationship between microbial communities and the chemical and physical environment of wet snow habitats on Livingston Island of the maritime Antarctic. In so doing, we reveal a strong reduction in bacterial diversity and autotrophic biomass within a short (<1 km) distance from the coast. Coastal snowpacks, fertilized by greater amounts of nutrients from rock debris and marine fauna, develop obvious, pigmented snow algal communities that control the absorption of visible light to a far greater extent than with the inland glacial snowpacks. Absorption by carotenoid pigments is most influential at the surface, while chlorophyll is most influential beneath it. The coastal snowpacks also indicate higher concentrations of dissolved inorganic carbon and CO2 in interstitial air, as well as a close relationship between chlorophyll and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). As a consequence, the DOC resource available in coastal snow can support a more diverse bacterial community that includes microorganisms from a range of nearby terrestrial and marine habitats. Therefore, since further expansion of the melt zone will influence glacial snowpacks more than coastal ones, care must be taken when considering the types of communities that may be expected to evolve there.

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