(ORDO NEWS) — American glaciologists were able to observe how soft clods of moss and mud form, slowly rolling over the surface of the glaciers, but they were unable to explain how they move.
On the white and gray surfaces of some glaciers, you can find placers of small and soft, densely green clumps of mud and moss – “glacier mice”. They have been known to scientists since at least the middle of the twentieth century and have since been observed more than once in Alaska, Iceland, Norway, and South America. Such communities of organisms can persist for several years, although they are quite rare.
It is believed that “glacial mice” grow on a small amount of pollution – for example, a small stone that accidentally appears on the surface – and serve as important habitats for local invertebrates.
They are not fixed on ice in any way, they remain stable for a long time – in addition, they move under the influence of forces unknown so far, rolling and exposing the sun to one or the other side. The mystery of their movement excites scientists no less than the famous “creeping stones” from the hot Death Valley.
A new article by Sophie Gilbert and her colleagues at the University of Idaho, published in the journal Polar Biology, is dedicated to the “Ice Mice”. The authors tagged 30 such objects on the Root glacier in Alaska and tracked their movement for 54 consecutive days in 2009, and then visited for several more years. It was found that their “embryos” were formed on the leeward side of a rocky peak protruding above the ice, from where they “spread” to the sides.
To the great surprise of scientists, the “glacial mice” moved at a speed of about 2.5 centimeters per day, and it seemed to be consistent. They did not move each in its own direction, but together, in a group – first to the south, and then to the south-west. Sophie Gilbert and her co-authors even compare them with a flock of birds or a school of fish.
Scientists have put forward and tested several hypotheses about what might cause “ice mice” to move together — but were forced to reject all options.
Their direction did not coincide either with the dominant direction of the winds in this area, or with the direction of the surface slope. The most common version connects the movement of “glacial mice” with the action of the sun, under which they heat up, melting ice and rolling. However, the direction of sunlight was not suitable in order to cause the desired effects. The movement of moss remains a mystery.
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