We have all heard of the butterfly effect right? Small events triggering catastrophic effects with growth in size and importance. Well, something like that is happening in Greenland right now. Scientists have found microscopic bacteria called cyanobacteria that live in meltwater.
According to a WIRED article, “when these bacteria come into contact with sediments on a glacier, they make the particles clump together to form balls 91 times their original size. So instead of the little particles washing away in meltwater, they start accumulating in streams atop glaciers, which are more formally known as supraglacial streams.”
With this sediment being dark, it absorbs more sunlight which speeds up the ice sheets melting. Melting glaciers are bad for our environment and climate. With Greenland having over 650,000 square miles of ice sheet, if completely melted will make sea levels rise 24 feet. That kind of melting won’t happen anytime soon but NASA predicts that Greenland has 3.8 trillion tons of ice melt away from 1992-2018.
This bacteria is nothing new to Greenland. With increased sunlight and decreased cloud coverage, this bacteria has become more prevalent. Sasha Leidman, a Rutgers University hydrologist, has been flying drones around Greenland to observe the changes that are happening on the ice sheets.
While Leidman and her team have seen a difference in the amount of ice, there is still a lot unknown. With Greenland’s temperatures increasing, they are not sure if cyanobacteria can thrive in higher temperatures or greater flow rates.
Researchers will be diving into cyanobacteria and how it could be influencing glacialized areas. Everyone has their eyes on glaciers and know there is a lot more to uncover!