Over winter microbial processes in a Svalbard snow pack: an experimental approach

Alexandra T. Holland, Benoît Bergk-Pinto, Rose Layton, Christopher J Williamson, Alexandre M. Anesio, Timothy M. Vogel, Catherine Larose, Martyn Tranter

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Snow packs cover large expanses of Earth’s land surface, making them integral components of the cryosphere in terms of past climate and atmospheric proxies, surface albedo regulators, insulators for other Arctic environments and habitats for diverse microbial communities such as algae, bacteria and fungi. Yet, most of our current understanding of snow pack environments, specifically microbial activity and community interaction, is limited to the main microbial growing season during spring ablation. At present, little is known about microbial activity and its influence on nutrient cycling during the subfreezing temperatures and 24-hour darkness of the polar winter. Here, we examined microbial dynamics in a simulated cold (-5 °C), dark snow pack to determine polar winter season microbial activity and its dependence on critical nutrients. Snow collected from Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard was incubated in the dark over a 5-week period with four different nutrient additions, including glacial mineral particles, dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP) and a combined treatment of DIN plus DIP. Data indicates consumption of dissolved inorganic nutrients, particularly DIN, by heterotrophic communities. 16S amplicon sequencing also reveal a clear difference in microbial community composition in the particulate mineral treatment compared to dissolved nutrient treatments and controls, suggesting that certain species of heterotrophs living within the snow pack are more likely to associate with particulates. Particulate phosphorus analyses indicate a potential ability of heterotrophic communities to access particulate sources of phosphorous, which is a fundamental limiting nutrient in many systems. These findings have importance for understanding microbial activity during the polar winter season and its potential influences on the abundance and bioavailability of nutrients released to surface ice and downstream environments during the ablation season.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue number1029
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2020


  • snow pack
  • polar winter
  • particulate phosphorus
  • heterotrophic bacteria
  • nutrient additions

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