Molecular and isotopic biogeochemistry on recently-formed soils on King George Island (Maritime Antarctica) after glacier retreat upon warming climate

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Vega García, S., Sánchez García, L., Prieto Ballesteros, O., Carrizo, D. 2021. Molecular and isotopic biogeochemistry on recently-formed soils on King George Island (Maritime Antarctica) after glacier retreat upon warming climate. Science of the Total Environment 755, 2, 142662 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142662

Maritime Antarctica is a climate-sensitive region that has experienced a continuous increase of temperature over the last 50 years. This phenomenon accelerates glacier retreat and promotes the exposure of ice-covered surfaces, triggering physico-chemical alteration of the ground and subsequent soil formation. Here, we studied the biogeochemical composition and evolution extent of soil on three recently exposed peninsulas (Fildes, Barton and Potter) on Southwest (SW) King George Island (KGI). Nine soil samples were analyzed for their lipid biomarkers, stable isotope composition, bulk geochemistry and mineralogy. Their biomarkers profiles were compared to those of local fresh biomass of microbial mats (n = 3) and vegetation (1 moss, 1 grass, and 3 lichens) to assess their contribution to the soil organic matter (SOM). The molecular and isotopic distribution of lipids in the soil samples revealed contributions to the SOM dominated by biogenic sources, mostly vegetal (i.e. odd HMW n-alkanes distributions and generally depleted δ13C ratios). Microbial sources were also present to a lesser extent (i.e. even LMW n-alkanes and n-alkanoic acids, heptadecane, 1-alkenes, 9-octadecenoic acid, or iso/anteiso 15: 0 and 17:0 alkanoic acids). Additional contribution from petrogenic sources (bedrock erosion-derived hydrocarbons) was also considered although found to be minor. Results from mineralogy (relative abundance of plagioclases and virtual absence of clay minerals) and bulk geochemistry (low chemical weathering indexes) suggested little chemical alteration of the original geology. This together with the low content of total nitrogen and organic carbon, as well as moderate microbial activity in the soils, confirmed little edaphological development on the recently-exposed KGI surfaces. This study provides molecular and isotopic fingerprints of SOM composition in young Antarctic soils, and contributes to the understanding of soil formation and biogeochemistry in this unexplored region which is currently being affected by thermal destabilization.

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