You are here

Gerard Ganey of APU

While climate change is often in international news, it's easy to forget that most research is done at the local level.

One of the researchers analyzing this localized impact is Gerard Ganey. Ganey has been studying the environment since his time as an undergraduate at the University of Vermont. He brought that interest and passion for environmental studies to the Last Frontier when he started his graduate degree at Alaska Pacific University. (click on photo for rest of story)

Ganey's latest research connects two (at first) seemingly disparate things in the natural world: algae and snowmelt. His project was concerned with how red algae effect snowmelt, the surface runoff produced from melting snow.

Red snow algae is a type of green algae. What sets is apart from most kinds of algae is that it thrives in freezing water. It is found in high-altitude areas and coastal polar regions. It appears red due to a chemical compound know as astaxanthin, a pigment.

According to Ganey, the current scientific literature states that the algae's color acts as a protectant. In order to study the algae, he conducted an experiment. “We ran an experiment where we fertilized snow to increase algae populations and used bleach to decrease populations,” Ganey said. “We found fertilized plots – which contained more algae – melted more than others.”

Ganey conducted his fieldwork in the Harding Icefield. It was the chance to do research in an extreme location – a “spectacular and logistically challenging place to do research” – that first drew him to studying red snow algae. One of the most important things he took away from his research was the existence of a relationship between biomass and snowmelt.

“[My research] is important because glaciers and snowfields worldwide are melting,” he said. The melt is contributing to a global sea level rise and an increased loss of freshwater resources. What sets his research apart is that the impact of algae on snow is not considered in most melt models.

“A really key moment for me during this research was witnessing the vast extent of snowmelt on the Harding Icefield,” Ganey said. Through observations in the field and LandSat imagery Ganey says the equilibrium line altitude has moved a long distance up the Harding Icefield in recent years. “The amount of exposed ice was impressive,” he said, “and maybe somewhat alarming.”