Tiny microbes on glaciers cause positive feedback for climate change

Tiny microbial activity on glaciers in the Arctic is reducing heat reflected back into the atmosphere. This effect has previously been overlooked but is expected to increase the effects of climate change in the polar regions.

Over the past few years Professor Liane G. Benning and PhD student Stefanie Lutz, members of the Cohen geochemistry research group in the School of Earth and Environment, have been busy making trips to Svalbard and Iceland to measure the ‘albedo’, the reflectivity, of glaciers and how microbial gardens might effect the amount of sunlight reflected by the glacier.

They discussed their recent trip to Svalbard with BBC’s Paul Hudson on his Weather Show radio channel. As well as talk about watching a solar eclipse from the the North, polar bear attacks, northern lights and news on a big new grant to study glaciers in Greenland!


Chasing Ice – Time to Act!

Nature is changing, right before our eyes” – James Balog

The Doctoral Training Centre for Low Carbon Technologies at the University of Leeds recently held a showing of the multiple award winning 2012 documentary film “Chasing Ice”, which Jeff Orlowski began directing while still an undergraduate student.

The documentary follows acclaimed National Geographic photographer James Balog as he tries to capture the rapidly changing nature of our glaciers.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

James’ initial interest with glaciers was sparked in Iceland when he fell in love with the endless beautiful forms ice can make. Inevitably his passion for photographing the changing forms of ice led him to the nature of climate and change and it’s affects on glacial retreat.

The long term stability of glaciers is intimately linked with average climatic temperatures. Therefore climate change has a dramatic impact on our glaciers.

James founded the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) with the aim to use time lapse photography to record changes in glaciers over time. He was convinced that the best way to demonstrate the immediate effects of climate change was to provide people with visual evidence of the changes.

The film contains very beautiful images of ice and glaciers including a mind boggling and truly humbling video of the formation of a gigantic iceberg similar in size to lower Manhattan!

I think we all agree that graphs and charts rarely stimulate the public’s imagination. James has taken the age old advice that gets drilled into Geoscience undergraduates “a good figure is worth a thousand words” and used it to dramatic effect. By creating a story based around his visually stunning imagery he has brought the climate issue within grasp of everyone regardless of technical background and expertise. He has shown that you do not need to be a scientist to see and experience the changing face of the Earth. This form of science communication is one of the key way to get these complex issues to the general public.

Photo courtesy of thephotosociety.org

Photo courtesy of thephotosociety.org

James in his TED talk quite rightly concludes that we currently have a perception problem. We have the technology, the ideas and to some extent the means to help change this planet. What we lack is a globally unified public perception! We need to get the message to EVERYONE! Including our children, who will be the ones living on a changing planet.

Climate change is real and the current rapid changes are a direct result of human interference with the natural order of the world. It is through the efforts of dedicated scientists and engineers working on these issues as well as the work of people like James, that together will help us raise this issue in the public eye. It affects us all and only together we can do something meaningful about it.

Consider your response when in 20 years time your children ask, “what were you doing when your generation destroyed the balance of the world?”

Never before has the phrase “now is the time to act” been more pertinent.


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