Review article: How does glacier discharge affect marine biogeochemistry and primary production in the Arctic?

Mark J. Hopwood, Dustin Carroll, Thorben Dunse, Andy Hodson, Johnna M. Holding, José L. Iriarte, Sofia Ribeiro, Eric P. Achterberg, Carolina Cantoni, Daniel F. Carlson, Melissa Chierici, Jennifer S. Clarke, Stefano Cozzi, Agneta Fransson, Thomas Juul-Pedersen, Mie H.S. Winding, Lorenz Meire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


Freshwater discharge from glaciers is increasing across the Arctic in response to anthropogenic climate change, which raises questions about the potential downstream effects in the marine environment. Whilst a combination of long-term monitoring programmes and intensive Arctic field campaigns have improved our knowledge of glacier-ocean interactions in recent years, especially with respect to fjord/ocean circulation, there are extensive knowledge gaps concerning how glaciers affect marine biogeochemistry and productivity. Following two cross-cutting disciplinary International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) workshops addressing the importance of glaciers for the marine ecosystem, here we review the state of the art concerning how freshwater discharge affects the marine environment with a specific focus on marine biogeochemistry and biological productivity. Using a series of Arctic case studies (Nuup Kangerlua/Godthäbsfjord, Kongsfjorden, Kangerluarsuup Sermia/Bowdoin Fjord, Young Sound and Sermilik Fjord), the interconnected effects of freshwater discharge on fjord-shelf exchange, nutrient availability, the carbonate system, the carbon cycle and the microbial food web are investigated. Key findings are that whether the effect of glacier discharge on marine primary production is positive or negative is highly dependent on a combination of factors. These include glacier type (marine- or land-terminating), fjord-glacier geometry and the limiting resource(s) for phytoplankton growth in a specific spatio-temporal region (light, macronutrients or micronutrients). Arctic glacier fjords therefore often exhibit distinct discharge-productivity relationships, and multiple case-studies must be considered in order to understand the net effects of glacier discharge on Arctic marine ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1347-1383
Number of pages37
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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