New Video: It’s Alive – Microbes and Melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet

March 23, 2017

Dark Snow Project first landed in Greenland 5 years ago with the mission to study and communicate the emerging evidence that the observed darkening  Greenland ice sheet was accelerating ice melt and could affect projections of sea level rise.
Mechanisms that were getting attention included darkening agents from industrial pollution, shipping, and increasing wildfires around the northern hemisphere.  One area that had not received a whole lot of study was increased growth of microbial organisms on the ice, bumped up by streams of meltwater that made for favorable growth conditions.

5 years ago the idea that microbial, or algal, growth on the Greenland ice sheet was not getting very much attention, although scientists have known for decades that ice was, in fact a habitat for some kinds of micro organisms.

In recent years, several research groups have been looking in detail at the darkening of the ice sheet – and understanding that, as the planet warms, and ice melts, more liquid water means more habitat for bugs, more darkening, more melt, get the picture.

In 2016, I was fortunate to spend time on ice with members of a new initiative, called “Black and Bloom”, so named as it focuses not just on Black Carbon, a significant source of darkening and melt, but the specialized organisms “blooming” on the ice, shielding themselves from intense arctic summer sun by growing protective coats of dark pigment.


Dark Snow biologist Dr. Marek Stibal has found that a species of algae living on the ice produces a very special pigment that acts as a sunscreen, protecting it against the intense summer glare. The pigment is the very same molecule that gives black tea its color. The dark pigment, visible in many photos of ice during melt season, is an important, but not well understood, part of the darkening process.

As warmer temperatures spread over larger areas of the ice, more liquid water is made available – a vital factor for algae growth. In addition, scientists wonder whether industrial pollution may be delivering key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to the ice, further driving algae growth.

Data is gathered through use of small aerial drones that hover over the ice and gather photographic evidence of changes in whiteness. The team has modified several small drones for their science purposes this year, and they are gathering exciting data under challenging conditions. By combining observations and sampling at the surface, with low-altitude drone observation, and ice-sheet-scale imagery from satellites, the team hopes to have a complete micro-to-macro view of the ice darkening processes.

The original mission of Dark Snow was not just to do science, but also to bridge the communication gap with a wider public, to better inform a global audience on the key findings that fill in the climate change story.

With a feature story in Rolling Stone magazine, and high-profile interviews with Dark Snow scientist Jason Box on NBC, Vice News, and recently, the Real Time with Bill Maher, that communication part of the mission is also being realized.


12 Responses to “New Video: It’s Alive – Microbes and Melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet”

  1. stephengn1 Says:

    Meltwater pulse 2b or not to be, that is the question

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Yep, soot from wildfires darkens the ice (and brings nutrients) ice absorbs more heat, “bugs” thrive and lower albedo even more, ice soaks up more solar radiation and more melts. Positive feedback anyone? Dark Snow and Black and Bloom need to work harder to get their findings out so that more people can understand this phenomenon.

    PS The snow from our only real snowstorm so far this winter in Northern VA is now just about gone, and I was once gain struck by how any speck of dirt or vegetation on the surface of the plowed piles soaks up so much solar radiation that it melts a hole down into the surrounding “white” stuff.

  3. Maybe it’s time for a new “Project Iceworm”. The habitat of those cute little black worms, Mesenchytraeus solifugus, is rapidly shrinking.
    Maybe it helps putting some on Greenland, where they can eat the algae…

    • schwadevivre Says:

      Camp Fistclench??? Did these guys graduate from a school for B-movie scriptwriters

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Highly likely that they attended, but dropped out and got drafted. And since the armed forces were carrying out many “suitable for B-movie” projects back then, their talents were probably in high demand. They were considered part of “military intelligence”. (And Fistclench IS an example of their best work)

  4. vierotchka Says:

    Have they found any tardigrades? A fascinating little creature.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Here’s Vierotchka, sticking her nose under the tent on another Crock thread. One may ask why she is asking about tardigrades (also known as water bears, space bears, pudgy wudgies, or moss piglets) who are indeed cute and “fascinating little creatures”.

      Anyone who knows what tardigrades are doesn’t need to ask the question, since they are everywhere on the planet, so why is she asking? Many reasons:
      1) Just to make a comment on this thread so that she will automatically see all future comments.
      2) She will do that so that she can look for an opening to pursue her REAL agenda on Crock, which is:
      3) To be a Russian propaganda troll and a whore for Vladimir Putin, who is President Pussy Grabber’s puppet master, and to distract us from the TRUTH about how Putin and the Russia plutocratic gangsters are trying to take over the world, destroy western democracy, and destroy the planet for profit.
      4) Vera is making this rather vapid little comment to try to establish some “sciency” bonafides—-she simply has none—-her only talent is as a troll. See the prior Crock post—-Case for #Russiagate: Adam Schiff’s Opening Statement—-for evidence. She covered herself with “glory” on that thread (actually more like vomit, and excreta).

      Beware of ANYTHING she says—-she is NOT an honest person.

  5. schwadevivre Says:

    Related article from physorg_com Solving the mystery of the Arctic’s green ice

    Algal blooms under the sea ice are primarily due to thinning

  6. […] @@ Alive And Well: Microbes Add To Melting Of Greenland Ice Sheet – Takeaways: […]

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