Bacterial characterization of the snow cover at Spitzberg, Svalbard


  • Editor: Rosa Margesin

Correspondence: Pierre Amato, Laboratoire de Synthèse et Etude de Systèmes à Intérêt Biologique, UMR 6504 CNRS-Université Blaise Pascal, 63177 Aubière cedex, France. Tel.: +33 473 40 77 14; fax: +33 473 40 77 17; e-mail:


A sampling campaign was organized during spring 2004 in Spitzberg, Svalbard, in the area around the scientific base of Ny-Ålesund, to characterize the snow pack bacterial population. Total bacteria counts were established by 4′,6-diamino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) in the seasonal snow pack bordering the sea. On the sea shore, bacterial concentration was about 6 × 104 cells mL−1, without any significant variation according to depth. In the accumulation snow layer of the glacier, concentrations were about 2 × 104 cells mL−1, except in the 2003 summer layer, where it reached 2 × 105 cells mL−1, as the result of cell multiplication allowed by higher temperature and snow melting. Strains isolated from the seasonal snow pack were identified from their 16S rRNA gene sequences, and lodged in GenBank. They belong to the Alphaproteobacteria, Betaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria, Firmicutes and Actinobacteria. They are closely related to cold environment bacteria, as revealed by phylogenetic tree constructions, and two appear to be of unknown affiliation. Using 1H nuclear magnetic resonance, it was shown that these isolates have the capacity to degrade organic compounds found in Arctic snow (propionate, acetate and formate), and this can allow them to develop when snow melts, and thus to be actively involved in snow chemistry.