LONDON – Climate change-driven snowmelt in the Alps is triggering abrupt seasonal change, a study led by the University of Manchester revealed on Thursday.

The Alps attract thousands of tourists from across the world to ski resorts in the snow-covered mountain ranges.

But the study said spring snowmelt in the Alps is occurring earlier in the year due to climate change and as a result triggering abrupt deviations in mountain ecosystems.

“These changes could negatively affect the functioning of these valuable ecosystems,” said the researchers.

New research has demonstrated that vitally important microbial communities within Alpine soils are under threat as a direct result of increasing global temperatures caused by ongoing climate change.

These belowground microbes critically support aboveground life because they recycle the key nutrients upon which all animals and plants depend, including humans. They also control how much carbon is stored safely in the soil, where it cannot cause further global warming.

The study added: “In winter, Alpine soil microbes depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold Alpine winter. However, it is estimated that the annual Alpine winter snowpack will begin melting over 100 days sooner than currently by the end of this century.”

Scientists from the University of Manchester demonstrated how this will affect soil microbes, and the critical functions they perform, by using in-the-field experiments and publishing their findings in the latest edition of The ISME Journal.

Dr. Arthur Broadbent from the University of Manchester, lead author of the new research paper, said: “Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling.”

“As a consequence, winter ecosystem functioning will be reduced in seasonally snow-covered ecosystems under future climate change, which threatens carbon retention and plant productivity. This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming,” Broadbent added.