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Vanishing Glaciers — What Else Besides Water Is Lost?

NOMIS Project 2018

— 2024

Microorganisms are the most ancient, most abundant and most successful form of life on Earth. For more than 3 billion years, the microbial metabolism, coupled with geophysical processes, orchestrated major biogeochemical cycles on Earth. Microbial life even endured periods of global glaciations such as those 600 and 700 million years ago when Earth was a snowball. In the aftermath of each snowball Earth and after each ice age, streams fed by glacial melt waters dominated the continental landscapes. Today, climate change is causing the icy streams and their glaciers to disappear at rapid pace. But it is not just water that is lost — we may also lose a unique microbiome that possibly carries ancient biosignatures unveiling secrets of the microbial mode of life in these ecosystems millions of years ago. The Vanishing Glaciers project is attempting to uncover some of the characteristics and strategies that microorganisms have developed to become such a successful mode of life in the extreme ecosystems of glacier-fed streams. This will be done by establishing the first census of microbial diversity in glacier-fed streams and combining cutting-edge -omics methods with phylogeny. This research will enable predictions about the impact that climate change may have on the structure and function of the biofilm microbiome and on its orchestration of the biogeochemistry in glacier-fed streams. The Vanishing Glaciers project is being led by Tom J. Battin at Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.


NOMIS Researcher(s)

Full professor of environmental sciences, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Project News

Glacier-fed streams are undergoing a process of profound change, according to NOMIS researcher Tom Battin and other EPFL scientists in a paper appearing in Nature Geoscience. This conclusion is based […]

The NOMIS project Vanishing Glaciers — What Else Besides Water Is Lost? has been featured in an advertorial published in Science. “Glaciers are melting fast. Yet rising sea levels are […]

Since 2018, NOMIS researcher Tom Battin and the Vanishing Glaciers team have been traveling to the highest peaks around the world. On an expedition to the Himalayas, Fanny Arlandis and […]


Project Insights

Abstract: The glaciers on Africa's 'Mountains of the Moon' (Rwenzori National Park, Uganda) are predicted to disappear within the next decades owing to climate change. Consequently, the glacier-fed streams (GFSs) that drain them will vanish, along with their resident microbial communities. Despite the relevance of microbial communities for performing ecosystem processes
Abstract: The biogeochemistry of rapidly retreating Andean glaciers is poorly understood, and Ecuadorian glacier dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition is unknown. This study examined molecular composition and carbon isotopes of DOM from supraglacial and outflow streams (n = 5 and 14, respectively) across five ice capped volcanoes in Ecuador. Compositional metrics