Biofilms on glacial surfaces: hotspots for biological activity

Bacteria may play a larger role in the melting of glaciers than previously suspected, according to a paper published in npj Biofilms and Microbiomes. Scientists from Montana State University and MPI Bremen show how the spatial organisation of microbes leads to an efficient transfer of nutrients between organisms and might speed up glacial melting.

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Glaciers are important constituents in the Earth’s hydrological and carbon cycles, with predicted warming leading to increases in glacial melt and the transport of nutrients to adjacent and downstream aquatic ecosystems. Microbial activity on glacial surfaces has been linked to the biological darkening of cryoconite particles, affecting albedo and increased melt. This phenomenon, however, has only been demonstrated for alpine glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet, excluding Antarctica. In a new study published in npj Biofilms and Microbiomes, Heidi J. Smith et al. show via confocal laser scanning microscopy that microbial communities on glacial surfaces in Antarctica persist in biofilms.

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