The role of microbes in snowmelt and radiative forcing on an Alaskan icefield

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: https://doi.org/10.1038/NGEO3027.

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Authors

Gerard Ganey, Michael Loso, Annie Bryant Burgess, Roman Dial

Abstract

A lack of liquid water limits life on glaciers worldwide but specialized microbes still colonize these environments. These microbes reduce surface albedo, which, in turn, could lead to warming and enhanced glacier melt. Here we present results from a replicated, controlled field experiment to quantify the impact of microbes on snowmelt in red-snow communities. Addition of
nitrogen–phosphorous–potassium fertilizer increased alga cell counts nearly fourfold, to levels similar to nitrogen–phosphorusenriched lakes; water alone increased counts by half. The manipulated alga abundance explained a third of the observed variability in snowmelt. Using a normalized-dierence spectral index we estimated alga abundance from satellite imagery and calculated microbial contribution to snowmelt on an icefield of 1,900 km2. The red-snow area extended over about 700 km2
, and in this area we determined that microbial communities were responsible for 17% of the total snowmelt there. Our results support hypotheses that snow-dwelling microbes increase glacier melt directly in a bio-geophysical feedback by lowering albedo and indirectly by exposing low-albedo glacier ice. Radiative forcing due to perennial populations of microbes may
match that of non-living particulates at high latitudes. Their contribution to climate warming is likely to grow with increased melt and nutrient input.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.31223/osf.io/c58a3

Subjects

Biogeochemistry, Earth Sciences, Glaciology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics

Keywords

snow, Glacier, abledo, alaska, alga

Dates

Published: 2017-10-26 22:31

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License

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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