Retreating Glaciers Starve Oceans

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by yet another falling domino in the cascade of negative effects from global climate changejolt. A study  of Alaskan glaciers in the prestigious journal Nature finds that as glacial ice disappears, so does high-quality food from the marine foodweb.

Here’s how it works:

  • As they flow into the sea, glaciers fringing the Gulf of Alaska export dissolved organic matter left over from extinct forests overrun by ice.
  • The surprise is that this organic matter turns out to be super biologically active (read: nutrient-rich), above and beyond what’s found in nonglacial rivers.
  • The second surprise is that this particular brand of dissolved organic matter does not decreases in quality as it ages (like most such particulate).
  • Instead, this 4,000-year-old stuff turns out to be super nutritious, with up to 66 percent of it rapidly metabolized by tiny marine microbes, instantaneously becoming part of the living biomass and supporting the greater marine foodweb.

The problem is that Alaskan glaciers are receding and disappearing in a warmer world. Therefore the input of this valuable food source is disappearing. What’s at stake? Well, the glacial-fed rivers fringing the Gulf of Alaska discharge as much water as the Mississippi River into a marine system harboring the most productive salmon fishery in the world. For starters.

Poof. We figure it out and then it’s gone. Another example of what I’m beginning to think of as the twisted quantum observer effect.
 

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

payment methods

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate