Skip to main content



Explore more of Isaaffik

Deep Purple


Program / partnership
Project start
Project end
Type of project
Project theme
Ice sheet & glaciers
Project topic
Atmosphere - ice coupling
Climate research
Environmental science
Molecular Ecology
Past climate studies
Primary production
Remote sensing

Fieldwork / Study

Fieldwork country
Greenland (DK)
Fieldwork region
Greenland, South-West
Fieldwork location

Geolocation is 61.156703, -45.4254299

Fieldwork start
Fieldwork end

Project details

Science / project plan

The stability of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is a threat to coastal communities worldwide. Our previous work has demonstrated why the GrIS 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 ice sheet 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 stabilise them. State-of-the-science analytical and observational methods will be employed to characterise 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 analyse 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.

Publications related to project

Project just started, but examples of relevant and recent publications include:
- Nicholes, MJ, Williamson, CJ, Tranter, M, Holland, A, Poniecka, E, Yallop, ML, The Black & Bloom Group & Anesio, A 2019, 'Bacterial dynamics in supraglacial habitats of the Greenland ice sheet', Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 10, no. J, 1366.
- Holland, AT, Williamson, CJ, Sgouridis, F, Tedstone, AJ, McCutcheon, J, Cook, JM, Poniecka, E, Yallop, ML, Tranter, M & Anesio, AM 2019, 'Dissolved organic nutrients dominate melting surface ice of the Dark Zone (Greenland Ice Sheet)', Biogeosciences, vol. 16, no. 16, pp. 3283-3296.
-  Perini, L, Gostinčar, C, Anesio, AM, Williamson, C, Tranter, M & Gunde-Cimerman, N 2019, 'Darkening of the Greenland ice sheet: Fungal abundance and diversity are associated with algal bloom', Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 10, 557.
- Williamson, CJ, Anesio, AM, Cook, J, Tedstone, A, Poniecka, E, Holland, A, Fagan, D, Tranter, M & Yallop, ML 2018, 'Ice algal bloom development on the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet', FEMS Microbiology Ecology, vol. 94, no. 3.
- Lutz, S, Anesio, AM, Edwards, A & Benning, LG 2017, 'Linking microbial diversity and functionality of arctic glacial surface habitats', Environmental Microbiology, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 551–565.