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What lives in the glacier?


cryoconite-pools, snow-algae

High up in the mountains you can find the ice glaciers, and although they are very cold, microorganisms can live even there. The bacteria prefer to live around dirt particles, because they like to eat dirt. 

Where the white snow and the glacier ice throw back the warming sunlight and where there is dirt, the sunlight stays.

As a result, it gets warmer and the dirt melts a hole in the ice and the melted water forms a small lake. In this tiny lake (cryoconite) live bacteria, fungi, other microorganisms and tardigrades.  You can see them under the microscope.

1) Heart shaped cryoconite / 2) Bacteria / Algae growing directly under lamps on ice in the Hintertux glacier / 3) alpine tardigrade (water bear)

Project description

Glacier surfaces are populated by a variety of organisms that are perfectly adapted to cold and high UV radiation, but also reduce the albedo of glaciers. The solar radiation forms cylindrical depressions (cryoconite holes) filled with meltwater and sediments, which are highly active habitats for bacteria, fungi, algae, viruses and multicellular organisms.

The genesis of a cryoconite hole is reproduced on an artificial glacier under heat lamps. The organisms (snow and ice algae, glacier area and tardigrades) can be viewed in the microscope.

Idea & Organization

Birgit Sattler (Institute of Ecology)