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European Research Council (ERC) Synergy Grant “DEEP PURPLE: Darkening of the Greenland Ice Sheet”

The stability of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is a threat to coastal communities worldwide. The PIs have changed our understanding of why it darkens during the melt season, becoming increasingly deep purple due to pigmented ice algal blooms in the ice surface, producing more melt and accelerating the GrIS towards its tipping point, and increasing sea level.

The next step jump in our understanding of biological darkening will be provided by DEEP PURPLE, which will establish the factors that control ice algal blooms. These factors are essential for modelling of future melting, which require a process-based understanding of blooming. DEEP PURPLE will quantify the synergies between the biology, chemistry and physics of ice algae micro-niches in rotting, melting ice, and examine the combination of factors which stabilize them.

State-of-the-science analytical and observational methods will be employed to characterize the complex mosaic of wet ice habitats, dependent on factors such as the hydrology, nutrient status, particulate content and light fields within these continually evolving ice-water-particulate-microbe systems. We will quantitatively assess why and how the fine light mineral dust particulates contained within the melting ice amplify the growth of ice algae.

The particulate content and composition of different layers in the GrIS is dependent on age, and so the algae that the melting ice can support may fundamentally change over time. We look back to understand if the ice biome has changed through the Anthropocene via analyze of fjord sediments. The first draft genome of ice algae will show their key adaptations to glacier surface habitats. DEEP PURPLE looks forward by providing the critical field data sets and conceptual models of ice algal growth that will facilitate the next generation of predictive models of sea level rise due to biologically enhanced melting of the GrIS.

For more detailed information on the project, please see the official DEEP PURPLE website.

Recent Publications

(authors from the group in bold)

McCutcheon, J., Lutz, S., Williamson, C., Cook, J. M., Tedstone, A. J., Vanderstraeten, A., Wilson, S. A., Stockdale, A., Bonneville, S., Anesio, A. M., Yallop, M. L., McQuaid, J. B., Tranter, M., Benning, L. G. (2021). Mineral phosphorus drives glacier algal blooms on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Nature Communications, 12, 570. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-20627-w.

Project Details

Project period: 2020-2025

Funding: European Research Council (ERC) Synergy Grant (Grant no. 856416)

Link: DEEP PURPLE on EU's CORDIS database

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