New species of algae discovered in the glaciers of the Antisana volcano in Ecuador
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – While studying the impact of radiation and other pollutants on the melting glaciers of the Antisana volcano, one of Ecuador’s 7 snow-capped mountains, a group of researchers have discovered species of algae , diatoms, hitherto unknown to science.
The discovery was made by a team from SEK International University (UISEK) in Quito in cooperation with the University of León (Spain), which has been studying watersheds and glaciers since 2016 using diatoms, microscopic algae containing a silica structure and a crystal. skeleton, considered to be good indicators of water quality.
Called “Biotic Index of Water Quality for Ecuador using diatoms as bioindicators”, the study is a pioneer in the country for the use of these indicators in glaciers, explains Susana Chamorro, professor at the Faculty of engineering and environmental sciences from UISEK, in charge of research.
“We wanted to find out what is going on in Ecuador’s glaciers by working with cryoconite, which are like lagoons that form inside glaciers,” the researcher told Efe.
GLACIERS AND LIFE
Glaciers play a crucial role in the water supply of the country and the Amazonian macro-basin. Yet they are exposed to many pollutants such as dust deposits, usually volcanic, which accumulate and are converted by strong radiation into small lagoons called cryoconite. Their sediment, these unicellular algae grow.
Studies of glaciers in Antarctica have found that these sediments accelerate the melting of glaciers, which prompted researchers to investigate whether these conditions were also present in the 7 great glaciers of Ecuador, one of the main hypotheses of the ‘study.
The known literature on glaciers suggests that life is generally not present in these ecosystems under extreme conditions, which the study in Ecuadorian territory has refuted.
“We have broken this paradigm; there is more life in our glaciers than in other natural conditions or similar ecosystems, ”explains Chamorro.
At present, in the 5,700-meter-high Antisana volcano, “new species of diatoms have been discovered for science, not just for Ecuador,” said the study’s chief researcher.
Located in the Ecuadorian mountain range, it is a potentially active volcano. This is the first time that new species of algae have been discovered, the description of which will be published in a future scientific journal.
The team is also analyzing the Cotopaxi volcano, at nearly 5,900 meters, an investigation which is still ongoing but which delivers various components.
“These ecosystems have not been studied, and therefore, we will find new species”, explains the scientist, emphasizing the specificity of glaciers with unique characteristics because they are found in the tropics where there is no seasonality. marked.
Ecuador is home to 7 glaciers: Antisana, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Cayambe, the Ilinizas (north and south), El Altar and Carihuairazo, all located in volcanic craters affected by the greenhouse effect.
The researchers’ goal is to study the 7 and, by 2023, to carry out a study that could provide a tool for water managers in the country.
WHY DO GLACIERS MELT?
Another axis consists in determining whether the presence of cryoconite, these lagoons formed by the accumulation of sediments carried by the winds, contributes to the melting of glaciers.
“It is necessary to know each of the snow-capped mountains to know what role cryoconite plays if there is a link between radiation, climate change and glaciers,” he concludes.
Meanwhile, the dust found in these frozen lagoons is largely volcanic and coarse in origin, which hasn’t stopped new species.
Among the diatoms found in the Antisana, some typical oceans, located in an ecosystem of fresh water and abundant form, have caught the attention of scientists.
One of the hypotheses – says Chamorro – is that the winds blowing from the coast or from the Amazon may have favored the emergence of this form of life at the top of the snow-capped mountain since the samples show the presence of more than ‘a thousand diatoms. specimens.