The biogeography of red snow microbiomes and their role in melting arctic glaciers

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Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Article number11968
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2016
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The Arctic is melting at an unprecedented rate and key drivers are changes in snow and ice albedo. Here we show that red snow, a common algal habitat blooming after the onset of melting, plays a crucial role in decreasing albedo. Our data reveal that red pigmented snow algae are cosmopolitan as well as independent of location-specific geochemical and mineralogical factors. The patterns for snow algal diversity, pigmentation and, consequently albedo, are ubiquitous across the Arctic and the reduction in albedo accelerates snow melt and increases the time and area of exposed bare ice. We estimated that the overall decrease in snow albedo by red pigmented snow algal blooms over the course of one melt season can be 13%. This will invariably result in higher melt rates. We argue that such a ‘bio-albedo’ effect has to be considered in climate models.