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Climatic Impacts of Glacial Outwash Plains in Western Greenland

Grace Marsh


Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne - EPFL

Lay summary

Glacial outwash plains are developing fast in the Arctic, a region which warms two to four times faster than the global average. Outwash plains develop from receding glaciers and consist of nutrient-poor sediment where microbial succession occurs spatially, creating a deglaciated chronosequence. Chronosequences are spatial representations of temporal processes, and in this case, primary succession proceeds from the glacier terminus across the outwash plain, from newly exposed sediment to more developed soil. Hence, chronosequences are useful for studying soil development by microbial communities, which can generate organic carbon and nitrogen pools that facilitate the growth of higher plants. Importantly, it is unknown if these new landscapes are sources or sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and the microbial communities governing these processes are not well characterised.

In this project we explore glacial outwash plains located in southwestern Greenland to address these knowledge gaps. Specifically, we investigate microbial interactions with greenhouse gases through genetic analysis of soil samples. We employ genetic approaches, such as metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, to identify microbial community structure, functional potential, active taxa, and functional expression. Further, we measure soil gas fluxes to observe the dynamics of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) in the outwash plains.

Coupling this genetic data with environmental and GHG measurements provides insight into the abiotic factors influencing microbial dynamics. Overall, these techniques allow us to characterise the role of microbial communities in the biogeochemical processes of glacial outwash plains and understand the greater climatic impact of these rapidly developing ecosystems.


Regional focus Arctic
Location Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat, Greenland
Funded amount 9,300 CHF
Project dates 1st June 2024 – 31st July 2024
Category Polar Access Fund
glacial retreat, greenhouse gas, Greenland ice sheet, metagenomics, environmental microbiome, Artic Climate Change