The microbiome of glaciers and ice sheets

Alexandre Anesio, S Lutz, Nathan Chrismas, LG Benning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)
358 Downloads (Pure)


Glaciers and ice sheets, like other biomes, occupy a significant area of the planet and harbour biological communities with distinct interactions and feedbacks with their physical and chemical environment. In the case of the glacial biome, the biological processes are dominated almost exclusively by microbial communities. Habitats on glaciers and ice sheets with enough liquid water to sustain microbial activity include snow, surface ice, cryoconites holes, englacial systems and the interface between ice and overridden rock/soil. There is a remarkable similarity between the different specific glacial habitats across glaciers and ice sheets worldwide, particularly regarding their main primary producers and ecosystem engineers. At the surface, cyanobacteria dominate the carbon production in aquatic/sediment systems such as cryoconite holes, while eukaryotic Zygnematales and Chlamydomonadales dominate ice surfaces and snow dynamics, respectively. Microbially driven chemolithotrophic processes associated with sulphur and iron cycle and C transformations in subglacial ecosystems provide the basis for chemical transformations at the rock interface under the ice that underpin an important mechanism for the delivery of nutrients to downstream ecosystems. In this review, we focus on the main ecosystem engineers of glaciers and ice sheets and how they interact with their chemical and physical environment. We then discuss the implications of this microbial activity on the icy microbiome to the biogeochemistry of downstream ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Number of pages11
Journalnpj Biofilms and Microbiomes
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2017

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