In a recent publication in Frontiers in Earth Science, Arwyn Edwards, Alun Hubbard and I outlined a framework for developing a more holistic understanding of the cryosphere. We suggest that the complex reciprocal relationships between physical and biological processes on ice surfaces represent a crucial gap in our knowledge of glacial systems, and propose to study them under the term ‘biocryomorphology’. The rationale for this terminology is that it is analogous to biogeomorphology –a well-established research theme focused upon biotic-abiotic interactions in terrestrial environments.

Cryoconite: We suggest that there is still a lot to learn about these supraglacial melt features

We identify cryoconite holes as important biocryomorphic entities, especially since cryoconite science is now mature enough to incorporate complex concepts such as coevolution of ice surface topography, hydrology, hole shape, size, position and microbial communities. The figure below outlines what we consider to be priority areas for biocryomorphic research.

Frontiers new fig4
Our outline of key biocryomorphic knowledge gaps and some suggested techniques for addressing them… (from Cook et al. 2015)

We propose that biocryomorphology should be established as a concept embedded within glaciology that integrates hydrology, topography, surface roughness and microbial ecology. We hope that this suggestion stimulates research into more complex, reciprocal ice-microbe interactions.

The full paper is available to download here:


2 thoughts on “Biocryomorphology

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