Cryoconite is a small hole in the surface of the glacier, which serves as a trap for fine sediments composed of small rock particles, soot and bacteria. The dark sediment inside a cryoconite has low albedo – it absorbs solar radiation and promotes ice melting beneath it, forming cylindrical holes. With time, as the layer of sediments becomes thicker, it isolates the underlying ice from heat and a reversed situation occurrs – the ice around cryoconite melts faster, and a cone of ice with a cap of sediments is formed.

Inside cryoconites microecosystems are formed, whose components are:

  • terrestrial mineral particles – quartz, feldspar, mica, calcite, clay minerals
  • anthropogenic pollutants (soot)
  • microbes and organic matter (algae, cyanobacteria, fungi, viruses, humic substances)

The holes can also harbour dormant seeds flown in from far away and invertebrates (like tardigrades).

Cryoconites create a positive feedback mechanism and are a significant contributor to glacial surface melt.

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