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Glaciers contribute significant iron to North Atlantic Ocean
Date:3/11/2013

tions to the Greenland ice sheet in May and July 2008, Bhatia and her colleagues collected samples from sites at several land-terminating glaciers on the western side of the Greenland ice sheet. The glaciers' meltwater empties into a large lake, which eventually drains into an estuary system before reaching the open ocean. Their study reports levels of dissolved iron orders of magnitude higher than previously found for Greenland glacial runoff rivers. When the WHOI team extrapolated their findings to calculate the contribution of iron from the entire ice sheet, they estimated its value to be within the range of that from dust deposition in the North Atlantic, which is believed to be the primary source of bioavailable iron to this ocean. This value is only an order of magnitude lower than the estimated annual contribution of iron from rivers worldwide.

When an ice sheet or glacier melts, most of the water doesn't simply run off the surface of the ice sheet. Instead it first drains to the bedrock below the ice sheet through cracks and conduits called moulins and then exits in large runoff rivers.

"A lot of people think of a glacier and an ice sheet as a big block of ice," says Bhatia, "but it's actually quite a porous, complicated system underneath a glacier, with lots of moulins and crevasses leading to the bottom. Once you get into the bottom, there are large tunnels that these waters are passing through." The more time the water spends in contact with the bedrock and sediments beneath the glacier, the more nutrients it picks up, including iron.

The WHOI team says further research is needed to determine how much of this iron actually reaches the open ocean, as their study followed the meltwater from the edge of the glaciers to the large lake they empty into. For this study, the team assumed that the amount of iron filtered out as the water moves through estuaries before reaching the marine environment would be roughly the same for glacial
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Contact: WHOI Media Relations
media@whoi.edu
508-289-3340
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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