Oxygen isotope ratios in the shell of Mytilus edulis: archives of glacier meltwater in Greenland?

E. A. A. Versteegh, Martin E. Blicher, J. Mortensen, Søren Rysgaard, T. D. Als, A. D. Wanamaker Jr.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is accelerating and will contribute significantly to global sea level rise during the 21st century. Instrumental data on GrIS melting only cover the last few decades, and proxy data extending our knowledge into the past are vital for validating models predicting the influence of ongoing climate change. We investigated a potential meltwater proxy in Godthåbsfjord (West Greenland), where glacier meltwater causes seasonal excursions with lower oxygen isotope water (δ18Ow) values and salinity. The blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) potentially records these variations, because it precipitates its shell calcite in oxygen isotopic equilibrium with ambient seawater. As M. edulis shells are known to occur in raised shorelines and kitchen middens from previous Holocene warm periods, this species may be ideal in reconstructing past meltwater dynamics. We investigate its potential as a palaeo-meltwater proxy. First, we confirmed that M. edulis shell calcite oxygen isotope (δ18Oc) values are in equilibrium with ambient water and generally reflect meltwater conditions. Subsequently we investigated if this species recorded the full range of δ18Ow values occurring during the years 2007 to 2010. Results show that δ18Ow values were not recorded at very low salinities (<~19), because the mussels appear to cease growing. This implies that M. edulis δ18Oc values are suitable in reconstructing past meltwater amounts in most cases, but care has to be taken that shells are collected not too close to a glacier, but rather in the mid region or mouth of the fjord. The focus of future research will expand on the geographical and temporal range of the shell measurements by sampling mussels in other fjords in Greenland along a south-north gradient, and by sampling shells from raised shorelines and kitchen middens from prehistoric settlements in Greenland.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiogeosciences Discussions
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)12019-12046
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Biology and Life Sciences


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