Calculating the balance between atmospheric CO2 drawdown and organic carbon oxidation in subglacial hydrochemical systems

Joseph A. Graly, James I. Drever, Neil F. Humphrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

In order to constrain CO2 fluxes from biogeochemical processes in subglacial environments, we model the evolution of pH and alkalinity over a range of subglacial weathering conditions. We show that subglacial waters reach or exceed atmospheric pCO2 levels when atmospheric gases are able to partially access the subglacial environment. Subsequently, closed system oxidation of sulfides is capable of producing pCO2 levels well in excess of atmosphere levels without any input from the decay of organic matter. We compared this model to published pH and alkalinity measurements from 21 glaciers and ice sheets. Most subglacial waters are near atmospheric pCO2 values. The assumption of an initial period of open system weathering requires substantial organic carbon oxidation in only 4 of the 21 analyzed ice bodies. If the subglacial environment is assumed to be closed from any input of atmospheric gas, large organic carbon inputs are required in nearly all cases. These closed system assumptions imply that order of 10 g m−2 y−1 of organic carbon are removed from a typical subglacial environment—a rate too high to represent soil carbon built up over previous interglacial periods and far in excess of fluxes of surface deposited organic carbon. Partial open system input of atmospheric gases is therefore likely in most subglacial environments. The decay of organic carbon is still important to subglacial inorganic chemistry where substantial reserves of ancient organic carbon are found in bedrock. In glaciers and ice sheets on silicate bedrock, substantial long‐term drawdown of atmospheric CO2 occurs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)709-727
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Volume31
Issue number4
Early online date27 Apr 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes

Cite this