Deep Purple — future biological darkening of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Purple algae are making the western Greenland Ice Sheet melt faster, as the algae darken the ice surface and make it absorb more sunlight

GFZ GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Helmholtz Centre

This photo shows the change in surface darkness as the cold dry white snow (left side of of image) starts melting to grey (centre of the image), to reveal the dark ice underneath (right side of image). The dots on the left are people to give a sense of the scale. Credit Laura Halbach

This photo shows the change in surface darkness as the cold dry white snow (left side of of image) starts melting to grey (centre of the image), to reveal the dark ice underneath (right side of image). The dots on the left are people to give a sense of the scale. Credit Laura Halbach

The ERC (European Research Council) has awarded an €11 million Euro Synergy grant called DEEP PURPLE to Liane G. Benning at the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) Potsdam, Germany, Alexandre Anesio at Aarhus University, Denmark and Martyn Tranter at University of Bristol, UK. Their common goal is to examine over the next six years (2020-2026) the role of glacier algae in progressively darkening the Greenland Ice Sheet surface in a warming climate.

The three researchers have already changed our understanding of why the ice darkens during the melt season by identifying the purple-pigmented ice algal blooms in the ice surface. These glacier algae are pigmented deep purple to shield their vital elements from the intense UV radiation in sunlight. During the melt season there are so many of these deep purple algae that they look as black as the soot from tundra fires. They form a dark band that has been progressively growing down the western side of the Greenland Ice Sheet during the summer melt season for the last 20 years, causing increased melting of the darkening ice.

Just why these glacier algae grow so densely is not really known at the moment, and neither is whether they will grow in the new melt zones on the ice sheet surface, to the north and to the ice sheet interior, as the climate continues to warm.

Project DEEP PURPLE

Questions such as this need answering if future sea level rise is to be predicted accurately, since Greenland melt is a major driver of current sea level rise.

Project DEEP PURPLE aims to answer these questions over the next six years, combining curisoity driven science about how the glacier algae grow and interact with their icy habitat, and societally relevant research into the processes that lead to ice surface darkening that are needed by ice melt modellers.

The scientists will work around many different sites in Greenland, making measurements of surface darkening, glacier algae density, how much soot and dust the algae trap on the surface and the physical properties of the melting ice surface to finally understand, how biological darkening occurs, and to predict where and when it will occur in the future.

Amazing opportunity

This type of research needs the expertise of microbiologists, glaciologists and particulate biogeochemists, working in synergy, because only with a knowledge of all three aspects of melting ice surfaces can biological darkening be understood. DEEP PURPLE will host a team of 9 post doctoral researchers, 6 PhD students along with the three PIs.

Liane G. Benning states: “I am looking forward to the opportunity to examine the complex interactions between the different light-absorbing particulates – microbes, minerals and soot – down to the smallest detail. As the ice melting season becomes longer and longer and the darkening of the ice surface by algae covers greater proportions of the ice sheet, it is all the more important to understand the processes and mechanisms behind it. In order to quantify how significantly the melting Greenland ice contributes to global sea-level rise.”

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From EurekAlert!

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76 thoughts on “Deep Purple — future biological darkening of the Greenland Ice Sheet

  1. The ERC itself should travel up there and cover the discolored ice with an inch thick layer of styrofoam to insulate the ice and keep it white. They will not be allowed to make use of fossil fuel in any way in creating the required styrofoam, installing it, or transporting themself to and from Greenland. I wonder how many tons of styrofoam will be required to do the job?

    • Styrofoam, like Kleenex, is a registered trademark. EPS, expanded polystyrene, is generic. Otherwise, it is cultural appropriation. Typical foam is mostly gas. The common blowing agent today is mostly CO2. Density is 2 to 4 #/cubic foot. It does have the advantage of being 100% recyclable and nontoxic. It is also decomposed by UV as long as it gets good exposure.

      It would be more economical to air spray tons of bio-toxins as long as we intend to micro manage nature.

    • €11 million? Likely more pre-ordained, pal review research, given the ‘climate change’ meme to guarantee funding by the taxpayer. Not sure if I’m getting the wrong impression, but it looks like this article is suggesting that this dark algae is under the ice and only darkens the ice where it is already melting at the edge of the ice shelf? Algae, growing at the edge of the ice shelf, where the sunlight has already reached it, is likely a normal, natural phenomena and unlikely to lead to further melting inland from the shelf edge.

    • If the glacial is growing it must be snowing.

      Doesn’t the winter snowfall cover up that glacial ice?

      If its not snowing the glacial can’t be growing ….. and its probably melting, from the bottom edge of course.

      How long is a Greenland summer and how warm does it get.

      Must be it gets hot enough to melt the snow overburden before the heat attacks the glacial ice, ….. right?

    • Just why these glacier algae grow so densely is not really known at the moment

      I am flabbergasted that the damned potty Potsdammers have not instantly linked this to CO2. Maybe they are holding off since proving it is CO2 is the basis of their next grant application.

      • Just wait…it’s coming…
        CO2 leads to warmer temperature…
        Warmer temperature leads to greater algae growth…
        CO2 enriches algae growth…
        Greater algae growth leads to darkening spread…
        Darkening spread leads to greater melt…
        Greater melting leads to lessened albedo…
        Lesser albedo leads to further increasing temperatures…
        Lather…rinse…repeat…

        • It will be interesting to watch. These glacier algae could be the first actually proven positive feedback mechanism that ‘climate science’ has been able to come up with. You can bet they’ll really go bonkers if it proves out.

          • Yep, just insert a plethora of $10 – $20 words (as my dad used to call multi-syllable words) and their paper is written.

    • not us….maybe they will figure out what’s feeding the algae….where it’s really coming from

      naw…..they will say it’s our fault again

  2. “When it all was over
    We had to find another place
    But Swiss time was running out
    It seemed that we would lose the race
    Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
    Smoke on the water
    We ended up at the Grand hotel”
    Deep Purple……..
    Just guessing ,this will be on the research team’s play list.

  3. Ah there it is finally: the long sought for adverse effect of plant growth stimulating CO2.

    Repent repent, Greenland ice is sliding rapidly into the ocean and we are all going to drown (sarc!!)

  4. Why always the AGW bias? Is this just to get the funding?

    Why not study the reduction in ice-sheet albedo caused by Chinese industrial soot. Do an image search for BIack Ice Sheets, and see how contaminated some of this ice is.

    In fact, much of the global warming over the last 3 decades may have been caused by the industrialisation of China; their terrible record on emissions and pollution; the reduction in Arctic ice albedo; and the huge amount of extra insolation absorption that that provides.

    No need to invoke CO2 at all….

    BIack Ice in Greenland.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VhictX5qvrg

    Ralph

    • “Why not study the reduction in ice-sheet albedo caused by Chinese industrial soot. ”

      Maybe these purple algae are feeding on the soot (?).

      • Possible. Is that why the algae are increasing?

        Logic would suggest that the surface of an ice sheet is a temperature constant, no matter what the ambient air temperature. While it is a known fact that the solar TSI has remained constant. So a logical variable that could account for increased algal growth might be nutrients from industrial emissions – not temperature.

        That theory would be easy to test. Core down through the Holocene Maximum (HM) ice layers, and look at what happened 8,000 years ago. It was 2 degrees warmer in the Arctic during the HM, so if temperature was the cause of algal growth you should find copious algal byproducts and remains there. If there was no algal increase during the HM, then again it is likely that industrial emissions are a more likely cause than temperature.

        Ralph

      • It’s an insurance policy, if the pause does turn to cooling, they already have their aerosols explanation on hand.

        Just goes to show, if you hang around long enough, you get to see history repeat itself.

        • Pumpy – I think you have the albedo feedback arse about face.

          The lower albedo on the ice sheets is a warming feedback – the same feedback mechanism that warmed each interglacial by 12 degrees c, in just 5 kyr.

          Ralph

    • “Why not study the reduction in ice-sheet albedo caused by Chinese industrial soot.”

      Because China is already communist.

  5. About 20 meters algae along the edge if the glacier. Contribution to the drowning of mankind.

    • At 20 m per year, that should reach the middle of the ice sheet in around 20,000+ years. Let’s just hope the algae don’t get started on the eastern side, too.

  6. I recall reading in high school that, triggered by the loss of Titanic and later spurred by shipping losses due to ice during WWI, some tests were done in the 1920s, 30s, and/or 40s with carbon black being intentionally spread atop icebergs to stimulate faster melting – and that the tests were a total bust. The bergs were even impervious to air-dropped bombs. Not surprising given that only ~10% of the bergs’ mass was exposed and the amount of heat transfer that would be required to be effective. The experience of those tests might be instructive for this new project.

  7. The study will look at how darkening the ice via growth of algae i.e. natural biological variation is significantly impacting melt rates of the ice.
    This is a bit like asking the question, “Is water wet”
    The real issue is, whether algal growth is any different now to what it has been in history. A secondary question then arises, “if it is different then what drives the difference”?
    My money is on a study result showing, algae growth is dependant on the environmental conditions in its local area.
    Another €11 million spent.

  8. So how much of the Greenland ice sheet gets covered in fresh white snow many times every year?
    About 100.00%, I would guess. Was this photo taken towards the end of the melt season? Probably.
    Is their claimed effect likely to make any measurable difference? Almost certainly not.

  9. Uh ohs. It’s the beginning of the end. The warming causes purple algae to grow which causes ice to melt which decreases albedo, adding additional warmth in a faster and faster spiral, especially once the permafrost starts to melt, releasing methane – the famed “Arctic Death Spiral”. We’re doomed.

  10. 11 mil pounds for that??
    utter rubbish
    if the algaes there its natural cycle
    if they dont like it then spray some fertiliser or copper suplhate on it
    either would knock it off pdq I reckon
    and cost little
    or
    leave it be…but theres no money or fame in that

  11. Blue carbon, green/red algae now purple algae?

    Are these people making sure all causes of climate doom is inclusive?

    • Right — more “disasters of color” need to be hired, for diversity.

      P.S. Despite the current marxist-meme, from grade-school education, white is actually all colors, darkness is lack of colors.

  12. Decades ago some climate clowns proposed to cover the Arctic with a black cover to stop the anthropogenic induced coming ice age.

    Now that some algae are doing so on the Greenland ice sheet (by the way, with no effect at all), the same clowns invoke anthropogenic induced GW and accelerated ice sheet melting …

    One for sure big effect of natural climate change :
    – the multiplication of climate clowns.

    • From the article, the algae is beneath the surface of the ice, so it should have little affect on the ice’s black body radiation characteristics.

      • They are on the surface of the ice. You should know by now never to rely on EurekAlert for factual information.

  13. Oh dear. Is this a whole new ecology starting up? Who knows where it will lead. Will we see new plankton, fishes, mammals, flowering plants, grasses, trees? Is Greenland turning green? Heaven forbid. Oh dear, what is the world coming to?

  14. Global warming is a meaningless consideration for a life form that exists at a constant 0 degrees C, or colder. Ice bound algae cannot exist at any higher temperature, regardless of the air temperature.

    Also, the sunlight energy that is absorbed by algae does NOT transmit to the ice – but rather,it is converted to biomass via photosynthesis. An algae layer is NOT the equivalent of an inorganic soot or dust coating on the surface of ice.

    • What would you know? You haven’t got 11 million Euros and he who has the most grants wins. You need to find some gold or silver algae of your own as the Royal purple is taken.

  15. Who wouldn’t look forward to spending 11M euros of other peoples’ money.
    Leane G Belling is following in the footsteps of Elon Musk.

  16. I can’t seem to find the right article to fit my question in so I decided to go with this one. As you know the climate zealots have been working overtime to discredit the warming that occurred during the MWP. They have admitted it was likely as warm as today during the MWP in Greenland and in Northern Europe. But they only make this admission because of the significant historical and anthropological record of the Vikings in Greenland and similar evidence in Northern Europe.

    But the climate zealots argue that the global temperature was lower than today during the MWP since similar historical evidence of warming doesn’t exist in much of the rest of the world. Lately I have been seeing studies conducted in South America and Africa that use temperature proxies to try and show no higher temperatures on those continents during the MWP.

    I am not a scientist but it seems to me that when looking for temperature proxies its easy to cherry pick what proxies you use in order to obtain the result you desire. Can any of the scientists here confirm my suspicions on this forum shopping for temperature proxies or am I way off base on my suspicions ? Thanks for the help in advance.

  17. “if future sea level rise is to be predicted accurately, ”

    Facepalm. Their predictions are garbage anyway. One more made up parameter isn’t going to make a #$%&@ bit of difference.

  18. There must be some nutrient there that the algae are eating. Also, since these blooms seem to appear close to the ice/ocean interface, it would seem that whatever it is comes from the ocean. There could be lots of reasons for this but I will offer one speculative plausible scenario:

    Bacteria are now evolving that eat plastic. One very efficient strain was discovered in a landfill in Japan back in 2006. It appears that it evolved production of an enzyme specifically designed to break down PET plastic. Plastic is potentially a very high energy source. Organisms feeding on plastic might produce waste that is, in turn, a nutrient for other life forms or maybe this species of algae has independently evolved a process to break down plastic dust and eat it. If one organism has evolved the capacity to digest plastic, one would assume that others have too, or will shortly. The number of organisms that will evolve to eat plastic will likely increase as plastic is such a high potential energy source it would not likely go unused.

    Also, the western side of Greenland is where all the people live. It could be that something produced by the human population is providing a nutrient for these algae.

    • I regularly marvelled at the pink algae on the snow slopes of the Alberta Rockies while spring skiing in the early 1980s. Nothing new.

  19. “As the ice melting season becomes longer and longer ..”
    “This type of research needs the expertise of microbiologists, glaciologists and particulate biogeochemists, working in synergy.”
    They should add meteorologists to the mix. Meteorologists would tell them that the length of an ice melting season depends on elevation. Elevation is plentiful in Greenland .. for that, they should also add physical geographers.

  20. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to examine the complex interactions between the different light-absorbing particulates – microbes, minerals and soot – down to the smallest detail……………..”
    and spending 11 million euros on Me and My family and friends.

  21. “algae darken the ice surface and make it absorb more sunlight”

    So the ice get more sunlight into it with the darken algae on top?.

    Should it say more heat?.

  22. I posted about this on the Science News FB page, my additions might interest people here:

    Ric Werme On a bicycle tour in 1974, I was (at first) annoyed to see pastel yellow and magenta coloration on snowfields around Rainy Pass in the North Cascades, but I soon realized they were the bacterial colonies I had read about in SN a few months before.

    It looks like there’s a dark purple alga that is geoengineering the ice edge in parts of Greenland.

    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub…/2019-10/ggph-dp-101119.php

    One “feature” of the Internet is that the percentage of new developments in science that I first read about in SN has dropped quite a bit.

    Ric Werme Found it – it was four years before and the color is from algae, but I remembered that people hoped this simple ecosystem would be relatively easy to understand.

    [This might be limited to subscribers.] https://www.sciencenews.org/archive/life-snowbank

    Ric Werme It turns out science has known about “crimson” snow in Greenland since 1818, I don’t know if that is related to the deep purple alga.

    https://www2.palomar.edu/users/warmstrong/plaug98.htm says in small part:

    The colour of the fields of snow was not uniform; but, on the contrary, there were patches or streaks more or less red, and of various depths of tint. The liquor, or dissolved snow, is of so dark a red as to resemble red port wine. It is stated, that the liquor deposits a sediment; and that the question is not answered, whether that sediment is of an animal or vegetable nature. It is suggested that the colour is derived from the soil on which the snow falls: in this case, no red snow can have been seen on the ice.”

  23. Just why these glacier algae grow so densely is not really known at the moment, and neither is whether they will grow in the new melt zones on the ice sheet surface, to the north and to the ice sheet interior, as the climate continues to warm.
    ________________________________________________

    It’s the competitions, stupid.

    These algae are the only living competitors from flora & fauna who learned thanks to adaptation to survive as dark wild growth on the ice and get all the co2 available.

    The winner takes it all.

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