Inputs of glacially derived dissolved and colloidal iron to the coastal ocean and implications for primary productivity



[1] Glacial meltwaters draining shield bedrock under the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) contain <0.4 μm “total dissolved” Fe (TDFe) with an average flow weighted concentration of ∼53 nM. The concentrations of <0.03 and 0.03–0.4 μm Fe vary over the ablation period, with weighted means for each of these fractions being respectively 22.4 nM and 30.8 nM. These concentrations are lower estimates as an adjacent larger glacier (a more representative source of glacial meltwater) had higher dissolved Fe concentrations, and reactions of meltwaters with proglacial sediments could also enhance dissolved Fe concentrations. This source of TDFe is additional to the reactive (oxyhydr)oxide phases identified by Raiswell et al. (2006) that are also introduced to adjacent polar seas from glaciers. The Fe concentrations in the shield bedrock underlying the GIS are lower than those of other crustal rocks (4.0% cf. 6.2%), but we argue that these Fe concentrations are not limiting on the total dissolved Fe concentrations we measure. The biogeochemical weathering processes operating on the subglacial debris and suspended sediment in our catchment are likely to be similar to those in other glaciated catchments. Therefore the meltwater Fe concentrations reported here can be used to give a first estimate of global fluxes of meltwater dissolved Fe to coastal polar waters. A lower estimate of the global flux of TDFe from glacial meltwaters is ∼75 × 106 moles Fe/a. This glacial meltwater input of Fe to adjacent polar waters will be greatest around Greenland where there are highest annual meltwater discharges. However, the greatest impact of this source of glacial meltwater Fe is anticipated to be in Antarctic high nutrient low chlorophyll (HNLC) waters where phytoplankton productivity is typically limited by availability of Fe. For Antarctic waters the estimated meltwater Fe (TDFe) input is about 10% of that suggested to come from sea ice melting, but glacial inputs continue throughout the austral summer ablation period after sea ice melt is complete.