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Global climate change

Summer algae growth likely playing a key role in the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet

By Brett Anderson, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
7/31/2017, 10:29:06 AM

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A team of scientists are trying to determine how much of a role algae is playing in the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The five-year "Black and Bloom" project, which is led by the University of Bristol (UK), is the first effort to systematically explore algae's role in darkening ice sheets.

These red-, green- and brown-colored algae blooms darken the snow and ice, which cause them to absorb more sunlight and melt faster.

The team estimates that algae blooms could reduce overall reflectivity by an average of 13 percent over the melting season.

“We want to get a handle on just how much of the darkness is due to microbes and how much to other physical factors," such as soot or mineral dust, says Martyn Tranter, a biogeochemist at the University of Bristol, U.K., and the project’s principal investigator. (via Nature.com 2016)

The longer melting seasons over the past few years have allowed the algae more time to bloom and darken the ice sheet.

Youtube video below shows what the "Black and Bloom" project is doing.

White snow reflects up to 90 percent of solar radiation, while dark patches of algae may reflect only 35 percent. The darkest patches of algae may only reflect just 1 percent of solar radiation, according to Nature.com article.

Based on the expected results, climate modelers should be able to improve their estimate of how the ice sheet is likely to melt in the coming decades. By the way, the Greenland Ice Sheet contains enough water to raise sea levels by 7 meters.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Global climate change