Microbial dynamics in a High-Arctic glacier forefield: a combined field, laboratory, and modelling approach

James Bradley, Sandra Arndt, Marie Sabacka, Liane Benning, Gary Barker, Joshua Blacker, Marian Yallop, Katherine Wright, Christopher Bellas, Jon Telling, Martyn Tranter, Alexandre Anesio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

375 Downloads (Pure)


Modelling the development of soils in glacier forefields is necessary in order to assess how microbial and geochemical processes interact and shape soil development in response to glacier retreat. Furthermore, such models can help us predict microbial growth and the fate of Arctic soils in an increasingly ice-free future. Here, for the first time, we combined field sampling with laboratory analyses and numerical modelling to investigate microbial community dynamics in oligotrophic proglacial soils in Svalbard. We measured low bacterial growth rates and growth efficiencies (relative to estimates from Alpine glacier forefields), and high sensitivity to soil temperature (relative to temperate soils). We used these laboratory measurements to inform parameter values in a new numerical model and significantly refined predictions of microbial and biogeochemical dynamics of soil development over a period of roughly 120 years. The model predicted the observed accumulation of autotrophic and heterotrophic biomass. Genomic data indicated that initial microbial communities were dominated by bacteria derived from the subglacial environment, whereas older soils hosted a mixed community of autotrophic and heterotrophic bacteria. This finding was validated by the numerical model, which showed that active microbial communities play key roles in fixing and recycling carbon and nutrients. We also demonstrated the role of allochthonous carbon and microbial necromass in sustaining a pool of organic material, despite high heterotrophic activity in older soils. This combined field, laboratory and modelling approach demonstrates the value of integrated model-data studies to understand and quantify the functioning of the microbial community in an emerging High-Arctic soil ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
JournalBiogeosciences Discussions
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2016


  • glacier forefield
  • microbial dynamics
  • soil development
  • numerical modelling
  • integrated field-laboratory-modelling


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbial dynamics in a High-Arctic glacier forefield: a combined field, laboratory, and modelling approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this