IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Glacial algae

20th June, 2024 Environment

Glacial algae

Source: Down to Earth

Disclaimer: Copyright infringement not intended.


  • Glacier algae, particularly Ancylonema nordenskiöldii, have evolved unique adaptations to survive and thrive in extreme glacial environments, significantly influencing glacier melt rates.
  • The study of glacier algae challenges traditional evolutionary concepts by demonstrating evolution through reduced complexity and provides insights into ancient environmental adaptations.


Key Points

Glacier Algae and Their Environment

Species Studied

Ancylonema nordenskiöldii


Glaciers, extreme environments with high UV exposure and low temperatures.

Adaptation Mechanisms

Pigmentation: The purple pigment purpurogallin acts as a sunscreen, protecting algae from UV and visible light.

Genetic Adaptations: Increased tolerance to UV and visible light, improved light perception, and efficient repair mechanisms for sun damage.

  • Evolutionary Insights:
    • Time Frame: Glacier algae evolved around 520-455 million years ago, after the Cryogenian period.
    • Evolutionary Adaptation: Algae became simpler over time, losing multicellularity and genetic diversity linked to complex forms, an example of evolution through reduced complexity.
    • Environmental Influence: Adaptations likely driven by more recent glacial periods rather than the Cryogenian.
  • Impact on Glacial Ecosystems:
    • Melt Acceleration: Algal blooms darken ice surfaces, increasing absorption of sunlight and accelerating melt rates.
    • Example: In 2016, algal growth on the Greenland ice sheet contributed to significant runoff, affecting global sea levels.
  • Significance for Climate Change:
    • Current Relevance: Understanding algae’s adaptations helps predict the future of Earth's icy environments amidst changing climates.
    • Broader Implications: Offers a model for studying other organisms in extreme environments and their evolutionary responses to environmental pressures.


Down to Earth


Q. Consider the following statements regarding glacier algae:

1.Glacier algae accelerate the rate of glacier melt during the summer melt season.

2.The purple pigment in glacier algae, purpurogallin, is primarily involved in photosynthesis.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

a) 1 only

b) 2 only

c) Both 1 and 2

d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: a)