“Microbial gardens” reduce the amount of heat reflected back into space by ice sheets

CLIMATE AND GEOHAZARDS

The first ecological study of an entire glacier has found that microbes drastically reduce surface reflectivity and have an impact on the amount of heat available to warm our planet.

The new research lead by the School of Earth and Environment academics finds a “microbial garden” of life flourishing in the ice. These microbe and algal material act to darken the ice surface and thus limit its ability to reflect the sun’s rays back into space.

The sun is the main source of energy for the Earth. A lot of the it’s energy is reflected back into space by the polar ice caps thanks to their white reflective surface. This acts against the effects of greenhouse gases, which trap the sun’s energy within the atmosphere and act to warm the planet.

However, if large parts of the ice are darkened by microbial activity then the amount of sunlight reflected back…

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