A University of Colorado at Boulder research team has discovered evidence of microbial activity in a rock glacier high above tree line in the Rocky Mountains, a barren environment previously thought to be devoid of life.
An image of a rock glacier, the large hump in front of the mountain in photo taken at the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research site west of Boulder, Colo. Photo courtesy Meredith Knauf, University of Colorado at Boulder
Found in an intermittent stream draining from the glacier, the evidence includes traces of dissolved organic material and high levels of nitrates, said Mark Williams, a fellow at CU-Boulders Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. The high nitrate levels are believed to be a result of microbes metabolizing nitrogen within the glacier, said CU-Boulder graduate student Meredith Knauf.
Rock glaciers are large masses of rock debris interspersed with ice in the high mountains of temperate areas. Moving at speeds of just inches or a few feet a year, they require an extremely cold environment, large amounts of rock debris and enough of a slope to allow them to slide.
Mark Williams | EurekAlert!
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