Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of bacteria are being released by melting glaciers, a study has shown.
The microbes being washed downstream could fertilise ecosystems, the researchers said, but needed to be much better studied to identify any potential pathogens.
The scientists said the rapid melting of the ice by the climate crisis meant the glaciers and the unique microbial ecosystems they harboured were “dying before our eyes”, leaving researchers racing to understand them before they disappeared.
Some of the microbes may also be a future source of useful biological molecules, such as new antibiotics.
The scientists collected surface meltwaters from eight glaciers across Europe and North America and from two sites on the Greenland ice cap. They found tens of thousands of microbes in each millilitre of water.
The data enabled them to estimate the bacteria and algae being flushed out would deliver an average of 650,000 tonnes of carbon a year for the next 80 years in the northern hemisphere, excluding the Himalaya Hindu Kush region, which was not sampled. This estimate assumes a continued modest rise in CO2 emissions. If carbon emissions are cut, slowing global heating and ice melting, the mass of microbes released would be reduced by about a third. [Continue reading…]