SHIMMER (1.0) : a novel mathematical model for microbial and biogeochemical dynamics in glacier forefield ecosystems

Bradley, J. A. and Anesio, A. M. and Singarayer, J. S. and Heath, M. R. and Arndt, S. (2015) SHIMMER (1.0) : a novel mathematical model for microbial and biogeochemical dynamics in glacier forefield ecosystems. Geoscientific Model Development Discussions, 8 (8). pp. 6143-6216. ISSN 1991-962X (

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SHIMMER (Soil biogeocHemIcal Model for Microbial Ecosystem Response) is a new numerical modelling framework which is developed as part of an interdisciplinary, iterative, model-data based approach fully integrating fieldwork and laboratory experiments with model development, testing, and application. SHIMMER is designed to simulate the establishment of microbial biomass and associated biogeochemical cycling during the initial stages of ecosystem development in glacier forefield soils. However, it is also transferable to other extreme ecosystem types (such as desert soils or the surface of glaciers). The model mechanistically describes and predicts transformations in carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus through aggregated components of the microbial community as a set of coupled ordinary differential equations. The rationale for development of the model arises from decades of empirical observation on the initial stages of soil development in glacier forefields. SHIMMER enables a quantitative and process focussed approach to synthesising the existing empirical data and advancing understanding of microbial and biogeochemical dynamics. Here, we provide a detailed description of SHIMMER. The performance of SHIMMER is then tested in two case studies using published data from the Damma Glacier forefield in Switzerland and the Athabasca Glacier in Canada. In addition, a sensitivity analysis helps identify the most sensitive and unconstrained model parameters. Results show that the accumulation of microbial biomass is highly dependent on variation in microbial growth and death rate constants, Q10 values, the active fraction of microbial biomass, and the reactivity of organic matter. The model correctly predicts the rapid accumulation of microbial biomass observed during the initial stages of succession in the forefields of both the case study systems. Simulation results indicate that primary production is responsible for the initial build-up of substrate that subsequently supports heterotrophic growth. However, allochthonous contributions of organic matter are identified as important in sustaining this productiviity. Microbial production in young soils is supported by labile organic matter, whereas carbon stocks in older soils are more refractory. Nitrogen fixing bacteria are responsible for the initial accumulation of available nitrates in the soil. Biogeochemical rates are highly seasonal, as observed in experimental data. The development and application of SHIMMER not only provides important new insights into forefield dynamics, but also highlights aspects of these systems that require further field and laboratory research. The most pressing advances need to come in quantifying nutrient budgets and biogeochemical rates, in exploring seasonality, the fate of allochthonous deposition in relation to autochthonous production, and empirical studies of microbial growth and cell death, to increase understanding of how glacier forefield development contributes to the global biogeochemical cycling and climate in the future.