Variations of algal communities cause darkening of a Greenland glacier

S Lutz, Alexandre M Anesio, SE Jorge Vilar, LG Benning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


We have assessed the microbial ecology on the surface of Mittivakkat glacier in SE-Greenland during the exceptional high melting season in July 2012 when the so far most extreme melting rate for the Greenland Ice Sheet has been recorded. By employing a complementary and multi-disciplinary field sampling and analytical approach, we quantified the dramatic changes in the different microbial surface habitats (green snow, red snow, biofilms, grey ice, cryoconite holes). The observed clear change in dominant algal community and their rapidly changing cryo-organic adaptation inventory was linked to the high melting rate. The changes in carbon and nutrient fluxes between different microbial pools (from snow to ice, cryoconite holes and glacial forefronts) revealed that snow and ice algae dominate the net primary production at the onset of melting, and that they have the potential to support the cryoconite hole communities as carbon and nutrient sources. A large proportion of algal cells is retained on the glacial surface and temporal and spatial changes in pigmentation contribute to the darkening of the snow and ice surfaces. This implies that the fast, melt-induced algal growth has a high albedo reduction potential, and this may lead to a positive feedback speeding up melting processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-414
Number of pages13
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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