AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: ice

Glaciers Hold Less Water than Previously Thought. Is this Good?

Last summer in Alaska, I was kayaking up to the Holgate Glacier when I noticed the water getting colder. I began to feel the katabatic winds as I got even closer to the massive wall of ice. Small ice chunks began to surround the kayak, and I could see the fast moving silt deposits flowing beneath me. I then heard a noise which boomed and echoed off of the surrounding mountains, and I saw a massive chunk of ice break off (“calve”) from the glacier and plummet into the sea. I’ve always known that climate change was happening, but seeing it before my eyes reaffirmed my fears.

Aialik glacier pano 2

Holgate Glacier, Aialik Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, Alaska

I’m not here to talk about my fantastic trip to Alaska, but rather to talk about the new scientific findings which will further predict the climate change battle. Previously, scientists believed that warmer-than-average temperatures can begin to melt glaciers, causing the sea levels to rise and cause disastrous flooding. Just recently, satellite image glacier research spearheaded by Romain Millan of Grenoble Alpes University in France has determined that glaciers hold 20% less water than previously thought. This means that, if all of the glacier ice were to melt, that the seas are predicted to rise 10 inches instead of 13 inches.

This is great news, right? Well, some could argue that less flooding means less disaster (landslides, wipe out infrastructure, etc), and that it’s good news. But it’s not, because even if the sea levels were to rise just a few inches lower, still 29% of the entire world’s population would be predicted to be immediately affected by flooding, and within a few days, 99.9% of the entire world’s population would feel the indirect effects through shortages or outages. In addition, less water quite literally means “less water.” 2 billion people currently rely on glaciers as their primary source of water, so “less water” would effect them through a drought. As

Parque estatal Chugach, Alaska, Estados Unidos, 2017-08-22, DD 94

Glacier at Chugach State Park, Alaska (which I too visited)

we’ve learned in AP Biology, water is one of the most, if not the most, important molecules to biological existence. A drought can affect human life from hundreds of angles, such as famine, or more immediately, dehydration. Water is extremely crucial to performing catabolic reactions such as hydrolysis, which we learned in AP Biology.

Factoring in mountaintop glaciers and their water content, Millan is able to determine the rate at which communities will run out of water. But for the non-alpine communities, these mountaintop glaciers are only a tiny drop in a large bucket. Millan’s research lacks one major component: the antarctic and arctic glaciers. If these unbelievably large ice fields continue to melt at the current pace, 90% of the United States is predicted to be underwater by 2050. To be honest, I believed this statistic was exaggerating until just recently. In Alaska, one of the glaciers named “Exit Glacier” had markers at the glacier’s terminus for each year. As I got closer to the glacier, I noticed the markers getting further and further away, signaling that the glacier was melting quicker and quicker. Take a look at the graph below, specifically how the year intervals begin to get smaller, and let me know how it makes you feel in the comments. Although it does not take a trip to Alaska to realize that climate change is really happening, new and emerging headline-worthy research like Millan’s is truly highlighting the immediate issue we all could face soon.

Exit Glacier Terminus Position From 1950-2020



Warmer Winters, Less Lake Ice


Royalty-Free photo: Ice, glacier, frozen, cold, glacial ice, air inclusions | PickPik

Crystalline Lattice Ice

An article written in the ScienceDaily explores recent concerning data: due to climate change, lakes in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing “more ice-free years.” You may be wondering—well, why does the amount of ice on a lake matter? The dwindling ice on our Earth’s lakes is not only a wake up call for our climate sensitive present and future, but also an indication of the detrimental ecological, cultural, and economic impacts of climate change.

I used to take ice for granted; now I understand why it is truly a unique thing. Water is one of the only substances that is less dense as a solid than as a liquid. This phenomenon is due to its hydrogen bonding. As temperatures fall below 4 degrees celsius, water molecules move too slowly to break these hydrogen bonds. As a result, the molecules are able to form a crystalline lattice, making the most amount of hydrogen bonds possible, 4. This property is crucial for life under ice to exist on earth, and therefore, crucial to the balance of all life on earth. Now, with a changing climate, ice is at risk. 

In a recent study, researchers analyzed 80 years of lake ice data from 1939-2016. Focusing on 122 lakes that have historically froze every winter, the researchers concluded that ice-free years for these lakes were 3 times more frequent since 1978. This trend is highly correlated with abnormally warm winters, and it will continue to increase as the earth warms at higher rates. 

The absence of ice on these lakes has various implications. Communities around the lakes that have traditionally depended on lake ice for ice fishing and ice festivals during the winter are paying the consequences. In addition to economic and cultural impacts, there are also ecological implications. The lakes are warmer in years without ice, and, as a result, they stratify earlier. The formation of distinct thermal layers increases the lake’s susceptibility to toxic algal blooms, which can be harmful to marine life and to people. 

File:Algal bloom(akasio) by Noctiluca in Nagasaki.jpg

Toxic Algal Blooms

 The authors noticed that this warming trend was not unique to a specific location of lakes, but rather, applicable to a broader region of Earth’s lakes. In a new study, researcher Filazzola and his colleagues looked through a broader geological lens to understand how the frequency of ice-free lakes has changed over time. They gathered consistent historical and modern data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for 122 lakes in North America, Europe, and Asia. Some of the oldest data collected was from 1443 about Lake Suwa, located in Japan. At this historic lake, the researchers collected impressive documentation from 15 generations of priests, who have always regarded the lake’s ice with “celebration.” Again, this demonstrates the cultural significance that lake ice holds in many communities. 

File:180205 Lake Suwa omiwatari 03.jpg

Lake Suwa, Japan 

Overall, Filazzola and his colleagues concluded that there is a correlation between air temperatures/climate cycles and increasingly “ice-free years,” which they defined as a lake not having “100%” of ice coverage “for at least one day.” Their data clearly demonstrated that lake warming is more prevalent in the last 40 years than in the last 80 years. One of the researchers, Sharma, even called the growing absence of ice as “not normal” and “a historical snapshot to understand that the climate is changing.”

As a 17 year old in today’s world, I feel very strongly about earth’s changing climate and its negative effects for our future. While the subject has become politicized in the United States due to certain industrialist economic beliefs, our changing climate is indeed pressing and sensitive. It is our duty as stewards to protect the planet and to moderate its changing climate.

Proteins Keeping Fishes Alive



Words To Know:

notothenoids: the arctic ice fish

practical application: how organisms adapt through natural selection

superheating: solid is above its melting point but does not actually it to melt at this point


     Fish in Antarctica have been forced to evolve natural antifreeze proteins to stay alive.  These proteins are mainly found in the notothenoid fishes, which are found in freezing temperatures. Arthur DeVries discovered these fish, their ice- binding-proteins and also figured out how they work in the 1960s . The proteins bind to small crystals and also protect cells by binding to their cell membranes. They are anti-freezing proteins that allow fish to survive and adapt to harsh and cold conditions of arctic waters.

Recent Discoveries:

          Paul Cziko, among other researchers in the United States and New Zealand, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that these ‘anti freeze’ proteins’ are also ‘anti melting’. Cziko and his team wanted to understand the antifreeze ability and examined if an anti-freeze protein (that was attached to an ice crystal inside the fish) would melt when the temperature rose. Instead, they found that the ice crystals did not melt. Ice above the melting is point is considered superheated. Cziko’s research basically says that even when it is way past its melting point, the ice (that’s latched on to the protein) still stays frozen inside the fish. These ‘anti-freezing’ proteins are also ‘anti-melting’ proteins that cause ice crystals to accumulate in the fish’s body.

The study shows evolution, not practical application, and this is a typical case of ‘evolutionary trade off’. There are difficulties that get solved, but there’s also a price to pay. Cziko’s research has not indicated any unfavorable effect due to the crystals, but the crystals could potentially block up the blood vessels of the fish and provoke an inflammatory reaction.

Personal Statement: 

      Personally, I really liked the NY Times article. I actually didn’t realize that we had to find additional articles until I re-read the assignment sheet. I found other articles because I was genuinely curious as to how this worked and came about. I was initially attracted to the word ‘protein’ in the article’ title -since it relates to what we are learning in class- but stayed because of the evolutionary aspect. It has always been hard for me to think of evolution as something. It is such a difficult-to-grasp concept since you can’t really see it happening . But, in some way- this made me think that I did see evolution. Instead of making me think of evolution as a concept or theory that I learn at school, it made me think of it as a reality, and as something that actually happens.     

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