Bacteria and Composite Particles in the Glacier-Fed Systems of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:30 PM
In controlled environments, bacteria and suspended sediment particles are linked via the creation of a composite structure ("bacteria-sediment associations"; BSA), with associated effects on size, density and hydrodynamics. However, the presence of these particles, and their corresponding effect on sedimentary processes is not well documented in many environments. Here, we compile field data from 20 glacier-fed systems in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, to illustrate: 1) the presence, and (quantity) of bacteria-sediment associations; 2) the presence of in-situ composite particles and their associated settling velocities; 3) the simulated impact of bacteria-sediment associations on settling velocity via controlled manipulation in the laboratory. In general, a significant portion of the fine suspended sediment typical of these systems was associated with bacteria and/or present in a composite-form -- not as primary, individual particles. Four key findings include: 1) Along a 80 kilometre river transect, up to 40% of bacteria were associated with sediment particles; 2) Manipulation of bacteria concentration in the laboratory has revealed a positive relationship between sediment settling velocity, creation of composite particles and bacteria concentration; 3) Composite particles dominated the suspended sediment load among all 20 systems, especially for larger particles; and 4) Measurements reveal these composite particles are settling at rates significantly below that predicted by Stokes Law. The formation of composite particles is especially important in lakes where laminated sediments are used for paleoenvironmental reconstruction (varved), as bacteria can modulate the rate at which some of this sediment reaches the lake floor. These results highlight the importance of bacteria in Earth surface processes and, more specifically, the sediment dynamics within glacier-fed systems.