Alpine glacial environments, like glaciers and permanent snow and ice patches, are often viewed as desolate landscapes, devoid of life. The usual idea is that organisms start colonizing landscapes after the ice has melted away. However, current research is changing that view as diverse sets of plants, animals and microorganisms are found to inhabit the ice.

Life have been found both on and inside, as well as under the ice, forming complex and unique communities. While some species are just regular visitors to glacial environments, others spend their entire life in this frozen landscape.

Few such environments have been studied thus far and with continued melting of glaciers and ice patches we risk loosing a wide set of organisms that we know very little about, as well as important biological interactions with glaciated environments.

In addition, glaciers and ice patches are important ecological archives of the past. As they melt numerous remains of organisms (bones, hair and feathers, droppings and even complete animals) emerge from the ice. However, once emerged, they quickly decompose and disappear unless collected.

So far, the study of glacial organisms have been focused on small organisms that permanently inhabit the ice. The aim of this project is to investigate the birds and mammals that visit, intentionally use, and leave their marks on these landscapes.

Reindeer antler emerging from the ice. Photo: Tord Bretten, SNO

Links to other glacial biology projects and finds

General glacial biology:

NSIDC All about snow

Glacial Biology

World glacial biology program


Ice worms

Glacier ecosystems

Glacial nests

Glacier mice

The tiny universe on Alaskan glaciers

Glacier National Park Ice Patch Project

Yukon Ice Patches

North West Territories Ice Patches


Spectacular finds of frozen organic remains:


Blue Babe

Frozen mammoth

9000 year old Siberian bison mummy

Tumat the 12.500 year old frozen puppy

Frankenvirus from Siberia

Cave lion from Siberia

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