Search on rolex.org

Joseph Cook and the frozen rainforest

The Arctic’s ice sheet is becoming darker, resulting in a reduction of its “albedo” or its ability to reflect sunlight. Glacial microbiologist and 2016 Rolex Award Laureate, Joseph Cook – who is carrying out pioneering research on the phenomenon – says the top few metres of the Arctic’s ice are like a ‘frozen rainforest’.
Published in December 2020Time to read: 2min 58s

His research is a journey of discovery that reveals how microorganisms on the Greenland ice sheet shape our world.

Joseph Cook – Darkening hues of Greenland

A strange new life is blossoming within the icy carapace of Greenland, daubing thousands of square kilometres of pristine white landscape in an eerie patina of greens, reds, browns, purple and black. The blooming of a rainforest of microscopic life in the rapidly warming Arctic holds not only mystery and beauty – but also menace. For British glacial microbiologist Joseph Cook – who was named a Rolex Award Laureate in 2016 for his pioneering research – the colours reflect both the unanticipated changes wrought by human activity on the planet and the hazards of accelerating sea level rise, drowning the world’s coastal cities.

Large areas of the Arctic and Antarctic are now colourful and dark – and dark things heat up in the sun, so those areas melt faster.Joseph Cook

“Large areas of the Arctic and Antarctic are now colourful and dark – and dark things heat up in the sun, so those areas melt faster,” Cook explains. “If we can use drones, planes and satellites to see what processes are causing the darkening, then we can start to build a model that can project that darkening into the future. With that knowledge, we can start to think about how to mitigate or how to reduce that risk.”

Perpetual Planet

Environment

Discover