Glacier and ice sheet surfaces are important microbe-dominated (‘supraglacial’) ecosystems that are changing rapidly due to climate change. Insights into the supraglacial ecosystem have been driven mostly by empirical approaches relying on field sampling and laboratory measurements. Despite increasing data on sources, sinks, and transformations of carbon and nutrients in the supraglacial ecosystem, few attempts of linking them together into an ecosystem model have been made to date. As a result, estimates of microbial activity and associated carbon and nutrient transformations on a large scale are highly uncertain, and predictions of future ecosystem change are virtually impossible.
A new perspective paper by Marek and his colleagues James Bradley and Jason Box, just published in Frontiers in Earth Science, aims to provide a theoretical framework of the supraglacial ecosystem in order to facilitate ecological modelling as a tool for understanding present day and future ecosystem dynamics. It focuses on the largest supraglacial ecosystem on Earth – the Greenland Ice Sheet surface – as an important example and presents conceptual models of the GrIS microbial ecosystem that are based on organic carbon transformations but differ in complexity by the detail that biological processes are represented. The perspective is intended to guide future supraglacial ecosystem model development and field data collection, and encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration between modellers and experimentalists.
Stibal M, Bradley JA, Box JE (2017) Ecological modelling of the supraglacial ecosystem: a process-based perspective. Frontiers in Earth Science 5:52 doi: 10.3389/feart.2017.00052