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Biological Sciences Division

July 2017

Greenland's Ice Sheet ‘Not Pristine’

Janet Jansson, PNNL

Microbiologist Janet Jansson, who coordinates the Microbiomes in Transition initiative at the Lab, snagged the weighty final quote in a recent feature on the tech website Gizmodo. She agreed with the conclusions of a recent paper by researchers in Denmark, Greenland, the UK, and the Czech Republic: that the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet is "not pristine" since it includes bacteria that resist or degrade toxic pollutants.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, collected samples of "glacial surface debris" in five locations on the ice sheet, scanned then for genes linked to coping with pollutants, and concluded that "the ice sheet should not be considered a pristine environment." Moreover, the authors called for more research on the industrial contaminants that have been sifting onto the Arctic for decades, including heavy metals, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls.

"I have been to Greenland," said Jansson, "and have personally seen how dirty the surface ice is on some regions of the ice cap, and how contaminants are concentrated."

She countered one critic of the study, who faulted the researchers for not comparing their samples to truly pristine "deeper core sections from before industrial revolution." Instead, said Jansson, the study's results "convincingly show that the Greenland ice sheet harbors microorganisms that have genes typical of microbes from other contaminated environments on our planet."

Jansson is a lead organizer behind the 2017 Multi-Omics for Microbiomes-EMSL Integration Conference slated for Aug. 1-3 in Pasco, Wash.

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