Supraglacial streams form annually during the melt season, transporting dissolved solutes from the melting ice and snowpack to subglacial flow paths and the glacier terminus. Although nutrient and carbon processing has been documented in other supraglacial environments (cryoconite holes, snowpack), little work has examined the potential for in-stream nutrient retention in supraglacial streams. Here we carried out a solute nutrient injection experiment to quantify NH3+, PO43- and labile dissolved organic carbon (DOC) retention in a supraglacial stream. The experiment was performed on a 100m stream reach on Mendenhali Glacier, an outlet glacier on the Juneau Icefield, southeastern Alaska, USA. The study stream contained two distinct reaches of equal length. The first reach had a lower velocity (0.04 m s-1) and contained abundant gravel sediment lining the ice-water interface, while the second reach was devoid of bedload sediment and had an order-of-magnitude higher velocity. At the end of the second reach, the stream emptied into a moulin, which is typical of supraglacial streams on this and other temperate glaciers. We found that N and P were transported largely conservatively, although NO3- increased along the reach, suggestive of nitrification. Labile DOC was retained slightly within the stream, although rates were low relative to the travel times observed within the supraglacial stream. Although our findings show that these streams have low processing rates, measurable in-stream nitrification and dissolved organic matter uptake within this biologically unfavorable environment suggests that supraglacial streams with longer residence times and abundant fine substrate have the potential to modify and retain nutrients during transport to the glacier terminus.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth-Surface Processes