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article imageGreenland's ice melting is being accelerated by bacteria

By Tim Sandle     Jan 20, 2021 in Environment
While global warming is the trigger, there is a role being played by microorganisms that is contributing to the sea level rise around the coast of Greenland. New research identifies the sun activated process.
Rutgers University scientists have identified class of bacteria (cyanobacteria) that plays a role in the environmental changes around Greenland. It appears that bacteria residing in meltwater stream sediment are contributing to the island's role in causing the sea-level to rise.
The bacteria are undertaking activities that are leading to a faster melting on the Greenland ice sheet. This is occurring because the bacteria are creating conditions whereby the sunlight-absorbing sediment starts to clump together and accumulate in the meltwater streams.
In terms of what is happening, the events demonstrate vividly the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. Other causes of climate change have led to decreases in cloud cover and increases in temperature. In turn, this has led to the bacteria generating more extensively. The growth patterns and greater biomass of the bacteria are leading to more sediment clumping, which exposes the sediment to more sunlight, and leads to far more sediment-driven ice melting,
As an example, hydrological models of a 425-foot-long stream located in southwest Greenland show that the sediment covers around 25 percent of the stream bottom. This is far more than the estimated 1.2 percent that would exist if organic matter and cyanobacteria did not cause sediment granules to clump together. Due to the activities of cyanobacteria, the affected streams have a brilliant blue color. While this might be pretty to observe, the coloration signals a major climate problem.
The significance of the finding extends to these types of data patterns being incorporated in climate models. Such data could result in more accurate predictions of melting and overall climate impact being made.
The research findings appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The research paper is titled "The Presence and Widespread Distribution of Dark Sediment in Greenland Ice Sheet Supraglacial Streams Implies Substantial Impact of Microbial Communities on Sediment Deposition and Albedo."
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