Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 2001, 33, 115-122

Structure, Formation, and Darkening Process of Albedo-reducing Material (Cryoconite) on a Himalayan Glacier: a Granular Algal Mat Growing on the Glacier

Nozomu Takeuchi1, Shiro Kohshima2, Katsumoto Seko3

1.Frontier Observational Research System for Global Change, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 930 Koyukuk Dr. P.O.Box 757335 Fairbanks AK 99775-7335 U.S.A.

2.Basic biology, Faculty of Bioscience and Biotechnology, (c/o Faculty of Science), Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2-12-1, O-okayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8551, Japan.

3.Institute for Hydrospheric-Atmospheric Sciences, Nagoya University, Nagoya 464-8601, Japan.


Dark-colored material (cryoconite) covering Himalayan glaciers has been reported to greatly accelerate glacier-melting by reducing surface albedo. Structure, formation, and the darkening process of the cryoconite on a Himalayan glacier were analyzed. The cryoconite was revealed to be a stromatolite-like algal mat, a product of microbial activity on the glacier. The granular algal mat contains filamentous blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and bacteria, and grows on the ice by trapping mineral and organic particles. This structure seems to enable high algal production in nutrient poor glacial meltwater by gathering and keeping nutrient rich particles inside. The dark coloration of the mats promotes melt-hole formation on the ice (cryoconite holes), providing a semistagnant aquatic habitat for various algae and animals in the glacier. Optical and chemical analyses of the cryoconite strongly suggests that their high light-absorbency (dark coloration) is mainly due to dark-colored humic substances, residues from bacterial decomposition of the algal products and other organic matter. Our results strongly suggest that biological activity on the glacier substantially affects the albedo of the glacier surface. The structure of the algal mat seems to be important in the glacier ecosystem and biological process affecting glacier albedo.

Back to Home