Archaeal intact polar lipids in polar waters: a comparison between the Amundsen and Scotia seas

erin.mcclymont [ at ]


The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is one of the largest potential sources of future sea-level rise, with glaciers draining the WAIS thinning at an accelerating rate over the past 40 years. Due to complexities in calibrating palaeoceanographic proxies for the Southern Ocean, it remains difficult to assess whether similar changes have occurred earlier during the Holocene or whether there is underlying centennial- to millennial-scale forcing in oceanic variability. Archaeal lipid-based proxies, specifically glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether (GDGT; e.g. TEX86 and TEXL86), are powerful tools for reconstructing ocean temperature, but these proxies have been shown previously to be difficult to apply to the Southern Ocean. A greater understanding of the parameters that control Southern Ocean GDGT distributions would improve the application of these biomarker proxies and thus help provide a longer-term perspective on ocean forcing of Antarctic ice sheet changes. In this study, we characterised intact polar lipid (IPL)-GDGTs, representing (recently) living archaeal populations in suspended particulate matter (SPM) from the Amundsen Sea and the Scotia Sea. SPM samples from the Amundsen Sea were collected from up to four water column depths representing the surface waters through to Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW), whereas the Scotia Sea samples were collected along a transect encompassing the sub-Antarctic front through to the southern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. IPL-GDGTs with low cyclic diversity were detected throughout the water column with high relative abundances of hydroxylated IPL-GDGTs identified in both the Amundsen and Scotia seas. Results from the Scotia Sea show shifts in IPL-GDGT signatures across well-defined fronts of the Southern Ocean. Indicating that the physicochemical parameters of these water masses determine changes in IPL-GDGT distributions. The Amundsen Sea results identified GDGTs with hexose-phosphohexose head groups in the CDW, suggesting active GDGT synthesis at these depths. These results suggest that GDGTs synthesised at CDW depths may be a significant source of GDGTs exported to the sedimentary record and that temperature reconstructions based on TEX86 or TEXL86 proxies may be significantly influenced by the warmer waters of the CDW.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Peer revision
Peer-reviewed, Web of Science / Scopus
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.5194/bg-18-3485-2021

Cite as
Spencer-Jones, C. L. , McClymont, E. L. , Bale, N. J. , Hopmans, E. C. , Schouten, S. , Müller, J. , Abrahamsen, E. P. , Allen, C. , Bickert, T. , Hillenbrand, C. D. , Mawbey, E. , Peck, V. , Svalova, A. and Smith, J. A. (2021): Archaeal intact polar lipids in polar waters: a comparison between the Amundsen and Scotia seas , Biogeosciences, 18 (11), pp. 3485-3504 . doi: 10.5194/bg-18-3485-2021



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