An unpublished study will analyze the connectivity between ice, snow and water ecosystems in Antarctica

Antarctica is a continent with great biological activity. Not only is there a large network of larger organisms that interact with each other, but water in its various states also plays a fundamental role in the ecosystems present in the southern territory.

However, there is no further information on the connection between the different states of this element that exist at the South Pole, considering the constant inflow of fresh water into the Southern Ocean. The connectivity and influence of water masses on the white continent is a question that scientists at the Center for Dynamic Research in High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) at the Austral University of Chile (UACh) are trying to clarify.

Daniela Soto, biochemist at the IDEAL Center, collected samples of snow, ice, lakes, streams and water from the intertidal sector of Bahía Fildes during the Antarctic scientific expedition (ECA 59) in order to carry out a genetic analysis to identify the diversity of microorganisms that grow in these systems and quantify the amount of nutrients relevant to the development of life.

“This study is quite pioneering in the field. It would mean a first approximation in order to understand the biological connections that exist in Antarctica and which are a consequence of the constant melting that the continent is undergoing. There are some records of the flow of nutrients from the snowfields to the coast, but we have no particular information about Bahía Fildes,” commented the IDEAL Center researcher.

The research also ventures into the comparison between fresh and salt water sources in the same territory.

This study is particularly relevant in the context of climate change, considering the increase in the melting of ice on the continent.

“Our question is what will happen when all this mass of fresh water melts and enters the sea, or what will be dragged along with this phenomenon. These are open questions and we are addressing them from this perspective,” Soto said.

“Because of these abrupt changes in habitat, it is very likely that some microorganisms benefit more than others, after the supply of nutrients that can come from melting ice and snow. However, the microorganisms that usually grow in snow probably disappear after the rapid melting of their environment,” commented the researcher.

After collecting the samples, a genetic analysis will be carried out in the laboratories of the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia, led by Iván Gómez, deputy director of the IDEAL Center and academic at the Institute of Marine and Limnological Sciences (ICML).

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