Disko Part 7: Lyngmark glacier

After the inconvenience of the rucksack incident, we were looking forward to an afternoon of sampling and hiking along a well-established (and marked!) route up and around Lyngmark glacier. We weren’t sure what to expect, as it seems everything to do with Disko Island is very under-studied and little researched.

The hike up is steep, but gives us outstanding views across Disko Bay to the south and endless basaltic mountains to the north. On approaching the glacier, I hear Sami shout ‘Hey! Why is the ice pink?’ The nearby ice is covered in snow algae, small microscopic organisms that colonise the surface of glaciers during summer months. They owe their bright red appearance to pigments called carotenoids that protect them from the intense UV radiation they are exposed to there high up on the mountain, giving the ice they colonise a distinctive pink colour.

Red snow algae growing on the surface of the ice. Unlike most freshwater algae, they are 'psycrophilic', meaning they are 'cold-loving'.

Red snow algae growing on the surface of the ice. Unlike most freshwater algae, they are ‘psycrophilic’, meaning they are ‘cold-loving’.

Sami and I find Mark and Casey (who left earlier in the day), who have been busy sampling subglacial sediments. The environments up here on this isolated basaltic plateau are fascinating and extreme in equal measure, ranging from subglacial sediments, meltwater pools, and the ice itself.

Isolated meltwater pools like this provide important liquid-water environments in an otherwise frozen and barren terrain.

Isolated meltwater pools like this provide important liquid-water environments in an otherwise frozen and barren terrain.

We spend the afternoon sampling and filming for the short fieldwork video that will eventually result from this trip. We make a plan to come back here in a few days to further sample these environments when our all-important sampling box arrives.

Filming, filtering, and sampling at Lyngmark glacier.

Filming, filtering, and sampling at Lyngmark glacier.

Finally, after a good day in the field we check out the snow algae under the microscope back at the lab in Arctic Station. It’s amazing to think that these tiny bright red blobs, only 10 – 20 microns in size, change the whole colour of the glacier surface. We wonder how important these photosynthetic algae are to the carbon flux in these glacial environments – does the carbon fixed by these algae contribute over long periods of time to the organic matter buried deep in the subglacial environment?

Red-coloured snow algae as seen under the microscope. The scale bar (bottom right) is 20 microns.

Red-coloured snow algae as seen under the microscope. The scale bar (bottom right) is 20 microns.

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