Mysterious Microbes Turning Polar Ice Pink, Speeding Up Melt

Mysterious Microbes Turning Polar Ice Pink, Speeding Up Melt

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: September 14, 2018 SNIP: A surprisingly happy and healthy ecosystem of algae is not only turning parts of the Greenland ice sheet pinkish-red, it’s contributing more than a little to the melting of one of the biggest frozen bodies of water in the world. The discolored snow isn’t just an Arctic phenomenon. “It’s actually a global occurrence,” says Alexandre Anesio, a biogeochemist from the University of Bristol. “In order for them to form visible blooms and increase the melting of the snow and ice, they just need the right conditions, which at a minimum involve basic nutrients and melting,” says Anesio. “As the climate gets warmer, the availability of liquid water from snow and ice becomes higher, favoring the growth of snow and ice algae.” “I think that this is increasingly becoming a problem in Arctic, Alpine, and Himalayan glaciers,” Anesio says. Blooms of red snow and brown ice are turning up in Antarctica, too. And experts are not accounting for the effect in their projections of global sea level rise, despite increasing evidence of what darkening snow is doing to the world’s glaciers. The darker surface [from the algae growth] lowers the “albedo,” or the ability of the ice to reflect the sunlight back into space, and that results in more light absorbed and more melting. As algae spreads over larger areas of the ice sheet, the effect will be compounded, leading to even more melting. A recent study found that algal blooms can contribute as much as 13 percent more ice melt over a season. So far, the blooms have not been taken...
Florida declares a state of emergency as red tide kills animals and disrupts tourism

Florida declares a state of emergency as red tide kills animals and disrupts tourism

SOURCE: Washington Post and DeSmogBlog DATE: August 14, 2018 SNIP: Florida’s governor this week made official what residents of southwest Florida already knew: The bloom of toxic algae that has darkened gulf waters is an emergency. The red tide has made breathing difficult for locals, scared away tourists, and strewn popular beaches with the stinking carcasses of fish, eels, porpoises, turtles, manatees and one 26-foot whale shark. Gov. Rick Scott (R) late Monday declared a state of emergency in seven counties stretching from Tampa Bay south to the fringe of the Everglades. Scott promised $1.5 million in emergency funding. Citizens in retirement communities are reporting respiratory distress from the vapors of the microscopic red-tide organism called Karenia brevis. A recent study found a 50 percent spike in hospital visits due to respiratory problems during red-tide blooms. Rick Bartleson, a research scientist with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said water samples offshore show lethally high concentrations of algae. “There’s no fish left. Red tide killed them all,” he said. “All of our concentrations of red tide are still high and would still kill fish if they were out there.” [T]he incidences of red tides seem to have increased since the 1950s and 1960s. Climate change could be a factor; warmer waters, up to a certain point, are congenial to algal growth. The Gulf of Mexico’s surface temperature has warmed by about two degrees Fahrenheit since 1977. There’s a more direct human handprint on the current crisis: Florida’s landscape and the flow of water have been radically altered by agriculture, canals, ditches, dikes, levees and the sprawling housing developments that have sprouted...
Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop

Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: May 15, 2018 SNIP: Blooms of harmful algae in the nation’s waters appear to be occurring much more frequently than in the past, increasing suspicions that the warming climate may be exacerbating the problem. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published newly collected data on Tuesday reporting nearly 300 large blooms since 2010. Last year alone, 169 were reported. While NOAA issues forecasts for harmful algal blooms in certain areas, the advocacy group called its report the first attempt to track the blooms on a nationwide scale. The study comes as scientists have predicted proliferation of these blooms as the climate changes, and amid increasing attention by the news media and local politicians to the worst cases. Just as troubling, these blooms could not only worsen with climate change, but also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. [R]esearchers have found evidence that algal blooms are not just consequences of climate change, but are also sources of climate-warming emissions. In a study released in March, researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Sea Grant and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that, globally, lakes and manmade “impoundments” like reservoirs emit about one-fifth the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. The majority of that atmospheric effect comes from methane, an especially potent short-lived climate pollutant. “We found that, as the lakes go greener, more eutrophic, the atmospheric effect of the lakes skyrockets,” said John Downing, the paper’s lead researcher and director of the Minnesota Sea Grant. “That’s because plants are decomposing and shooting methane and CO2 into the...
Sea ice algae blooms in the dark

Sea ice algae blooms in the dark

SOURCE: AAAS EurekAlert DATE: February 6, 2018 SNIP: Researchers from Aarhus University have measured a new world record: Small ice algae on the underside of the Arctic sea ice live and grow at a light level corresponding to only 0.02% of the light at the surface of the ice. Algae are the primary component of the Arctic food web and produce food far earlier in the year than previously thought. The general view has been that ice algae do not obtain sufficient light for growth when they are covered by a more than 30-50 cm deep cover of snow and ice. The new measurements completely change that view and show that ice algae may play an important role much earlier in the spring in the Arctic than hitherto assumed. Temperatures are rising in the Arctic. When the snow on top of the ice gets warmer, the algae residing on the underside of the ice receive more light. This may significantly impact the growth of the algae and the extent of the ‘spring bloom’. This new knowledge must be considered in the puzzle of how the Arctic will respond to a warmer...
Algae Growth Reduces Reflectivity, Enhances Greenland Ice Sheet Melting

Algae Growth Reduces Reflectivity, Enhances Greenland Ice Sheet Melting

SOURCE: American Geophysical Union (AGU) DATE: December 20, 2017 SNIP: New research shows algae growing on the Greenland ice sheet, the Earth’s second-largest ice sheet, significantly reduce the surface reflectivity of the ice sheet’s bare ice area and contribute more to its melting than dust or black carbon. The new findings could influence scientists’ understanding of ice sheet melting and projections of future sea level rise, according to the study’s authors. The new study quantitatively assessed how surface ice algae contribute to darkening of the ice sheet, and found the algae reduce the ice sheet’s albedo significantly more than non-algal materials, like mineral particles and black carbon. Algal darkening is responsible for 5 percent to 10 percent of the total ice sheet melt each summer, according to the new research published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Absorption of sunlight is responsible for most of the ice melt in Greenland, according to Jason Box, a climatologist at The Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and the other lead author of the new study. Microbes such as algal cells colonize the ice and can accumulate over time given enough sunlight, water and nutrients. Surface ice algae produce dark pigments to protect themselves from high intensity radiation, further darkening the sheet surface, Marek Stibal, a cryosphere ecologist at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic and one of the lead authors of the new study, said. The new study didn’t estimate how much more ice could melt in the future due to algal darkening. But the results can lay the groundwork to devise more accurate projections of...