Quirks & Quarks

Purple algae and its impact on Greenland's ice

Researchers' increasing concern over unexpected algae growth in Greenland
base camp on darkened ice (Dr. Martyn Tranter)

Every summer we hear about algae blooms growing in lakes and beaches. But three years ago, scientists discovered algae growing in a place you probably wouldn't expect: on the massive, hundreds-of-metres-thick ice cap on top of Greenland. The purple algae growing there is darkening the ice sheet. The darker it gets, the more sunlight is absorbed, melting more water for algae to grow in, creating a vicious feedback loop that scientists are concerned could accelerate the melting of ice and rising sea levels. Professor Martyn Tranter, a polar biogeochemist from the University of Bristol's Glaciology Centre, is the scientist who discovered Greenland's ice-cap algae three years ago. He says this is going to forever change how we think about the darkening of ice sheets and glaciers around the world.

Related Links: 

Professor Tranter's Black and Bloom project

University of Bristol's Glaciology Centre