Bacteria may play a larger role in the melting of glaciers than previously suspected. That’s the conclusion from lab member Heidi Smith’s paper in Nature’s Biofilms and Microbiomes.
Tiny dust particles blown onto glaciers heat up in the sun, causing the ice to melt faster than normal. This creates small cylindrical holes that form habitats for bacteria living on the dust particles.
Heidi’s paper described how the bacteria form biofilms that drive the deposition of more dust, bacteria and organic matter on the glacier surface.
This is important because the process darkens the color of the glacier, increasing absorption of sunlight and potentially accelerating melting. It’s also the first time this has been documented in Antarctica.