OVERVIEW OF THE RESEARCH PROGRAM
Glaciers and ice sheets were long believed to be sterile environments, but just like other large ecosystems (e.g., tropical forests, tundra), they are now widely recognized as one of the Earth’s biomes, teeming with life. Active algae, fungi, bacteria and viruses dominate the glacial environment and they have the ability to change the physical and chemical characteristics of the ice and snow, with global effects. For instance, increasing ice melt rates are observed due to growth of pigmented algae on glacier surfaces and substantial amounts of methane from subglacial habitats are added to the global greenhouse gas budget. Despite their global influence, many of the microbiological processes within the cryosphere remain poorly quantified. A deeper understanding of such processes are relevant to researchers interested in the possibility of life on icy extraterrestrial bodies, the survival and proliferation of life forms on our early Earth (e.g. during the part of the Proterozoic era known as Snowball Earth), and the positive and negative feedbacks that the cryosphere may have on global warming. The microbial communities living in association with icy environments may also harbor unique metabolic pathways, providing novel opportunities in biotechnology.
ICEBIO is a Doctoral Network that will train the next generation of glacier microbiology and biogeochemistry experts. The training and research programme is made up of seven interlinked Work Packages (WP). WP1 to WP4 are research work packages at the cutting edge of glacial microbiology and biogeochemistry and these will be supported by three overarching WPs (WP5-7) associated with the management, training, and dissemination of results. ICEBIO will deliver a detailed framework and database of the functional diversity and potential of the glacier biome, not only serving to dramatically advance our understanding of a threatened biome, but also laying out potential for use in economic and environmental services.