The glacial iron cycle from source to export
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Nutrient availability limits primary production in large sectors of the world’s oceans. Iron is the major limiting nutrient in around one third of the oceanic euphotic zone, most significantly in the Southern Ocean proximal to Antarctica. In these areas the availability of bioavailable iron can influence the amount of primary production, and thus the strength of the biological pump and associated carbon drawdown from the atmosphere. Despite experiencing widespread iron limitation, the Polar oceans are among the most productive on Earth. Due to the extreme cold, remoteness and their perceived “stasis”, ice sheets have previously been though of as insignificant in global biogeochemical cycles. However, large marine algal blooms have been observed in iron-limited areas where glacial influence is large, and it is possible that these areas are stimulated by glacial bioavailable iron input. Here we discuss the importance of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets in the global iron cycle. Using field collected trace element data, bulk meltwater chemistry and mineralogical analysis, including photomicrographs, EELS and XANES, we present, for the first time, a conceptual model of the glacial iron cycle from source to export. Using this data we discuss the sources of iron in glacial meltwater, transportation and alteration through the glacial system, and subsequent export to downstream environments. Data collected in 2012 and 2013 from two different Greenlandic glacial catchments are shown, with the most detailed breakdown of iron speciation and concentrations in glacial areas yet reported. Furthermore, the first data from Greenlandic icebergs is presented, allowing meltwater-derived and iceberg-derived iron export to be compared, and the influence of both in marine productivity to be estimated. Using our conceptual model and flux estimates from our dataset, glacial iron delivery in both the northern and southern hemisphere is discussed. Finally, we compare our flux estimates to other major iron sources to the polar regions such as aeolian dust, and discuss potential implications of increased melting of the ice sheets on the global iron cycle in the future.