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Rapidly melting glaciers release unknown bacteria into water ecosystems

Fast-melting glaciers are releasing staggering amounts of unknown bacteria into rivers and streams, which could transform icy ecosystems according to new research.

In a study of glacial runoff from 10 sites across the northern hemisphere, researchers have estimated that continued global warming over the next 80 years could release hundreds of thousands of tonnes of bacteria into environments downstream of receding glaciers. Aberystwyth University microbiologist and author of the study Arwyn Edwards told the BBC, "We think of glaciers as a huge store of frozen water but the most important lesson from this research is that they are also ecosystems in their own right.”

Dr. Edwards said studying the contents of glaciers is like opening the door to another time in history. Microbes entombed inside them could be a rich source of useful, new compounds, such as antibiotics.

The researchers involved in the new study said melting glaciers are releasing tonnes upon tonnes of bacteria faster than scientists can possibly catalogue them.

Finding on average tens of thousands of microbes in each millilitre of water, they estimate that more than a hundred thousand tonnes of bacteria could be expelled into glacial meltwaters over the next 80 years, not including the glaciers in the Himalaya Hindu Kush region of Asia.



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