Previously Undiscovered Carbon Cycle in the Poles

Title: Polar glaciers may be home to previously undiscovered carbon cycle (April 12, 2017)

Link: via the National Science Foundation

Summary:  New research on the carbon cycle of glacial ecosystems has revealed a new source of overlooked  carbon. Previously, it was thought carbon in glaciers was the result of organic matter from ancient ecosystems or more recently trapped carbon, such as soot.

However, a new study revealed that in “supraglacial” stream environments, streams that flow on glaciers, most of the carbon was produced by photosynthesizing microorganisms.

While glacial streams may seem like a small ecosystem, the writers of the paper state polar glacial streams “represent an important component of the global carbon cycle.” Approximately 11 percent of the Earth is covered in ice, and therefore valid area for supraglacial systems to exist. These streams are some of the largest glacial ecosystems, but until now, their contribution to the global carbon cycle had not been considered. As the global climate warms, and these supraglacial systems grow, the microbial output of carbon might also increase.

At this point, more research will be necessary to determine the exact extent of these microbial systems and their impacts on the global climate.

Connections:  We have looked at different carbon cycles and how the global environment is affected by fluctuations in the system. This is a slightly different ecosystem than what is typically discussed, but truly demonstrates the versatility of microbial life.

Critical Analysis:  Personally, I think it is odd that nobody has looked into glacial stream systems for microbial life until now. We know microbes can exist happily in space, so what would stop them from happily existing in polar streams? Or maybe we did know there were microbes, but not that they photosyntesized.

This outlines what I think is a great shortcoming of this article. While it explains the findings and their relevance well, it does not give much background information, either about the environment, prior discoveries, or even the carbon cycle.

I believe in this case, this article was written to grab the attention of the reader and give them a small fragment of a fact to make them interested in reading the entire paper, or at least that’s what it did for me. It left me feeling like I didn’t have the whole picture.

Questions:  How else do microbes contribute in polar ecosystems? Are there other organisms in these supraglacial ecosystems?