Quantcast
Climate

Pink Snow a Bad Sign for the Future, Scientists Say

While it might look pretty, red snow is a cause for concern, scientists say.

The phenomenon, sometimes called watermelon snow or blood snow, is actually an algae bloom, The Washington Post reported. Algae known as chlamydomonas nivalis are causing the hue through chemical reactions. The algae are normally green, but when they soak up ultraviolet rays, they turn red.

Snow algae bloom in red on ice and snow and thereby darken the surface. This accelerates the thawing of ice. Photo credit: Liane G. Benning, GFZ

A study published last week in Nature Communications stated that not only does the algae change the color of snow, it also changes the albedo.

A team of German and British scientists lead by Stefanie Lutz, postdoc at the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ and at the University of Leeds, studied 40 samples of watermelon snow across four Arctic locations: Norwegian archipelago Svalbard, Sweden, Greenland and Iceland. Thirty-six of the samples were taken from Svalbard and Sweden alone, providing 12 and 24, respectively.

The scientists estimated that the decrease in snow albedo in areas with algae over the course of one melt season was about 13 percent. The algal blooms darkened the color of the snow, therefore lowering the albedo. Items with lower albedos reflect less light. The light they don't reflect is then absorbed, making the surface hotter and the ice to melt faster.

"Our results point out that the 'bio-albedo' effect is important and has to be considered in future climate models," Lutz, the paper's lead author, said.

Lutz and team measured a similar decrease in albedo in the algae-filled snow across all sites.

The snow algae under a microscope. Photo credit: Stefanie Lutz, GFZ

Red snow usually appears during late spring and summer months, according to a statement by the GFZ. Thin layers of liquid water form on ice and snow in the Arctic, providing the right conditions for the growth of the algae. Over the winter season, the algae fall dormant.

Algal blooms create a snowball effect. The more glaciers and snow fields that thaw, the more algal blooms will occur, darkening the surface of remaining snow and accelerating melting, the German Research Centre for Geosciences explained.

"The algae need liquid water in order to bloom," Lutz told Gizmodo. "Therefore the melting of snow and ice surfaces controls the abundance of the algae. The more melting, the more algae. With temperatures rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon will likely also increase leading to an even higher bio-albedo effect."

An example of a snow sample researchers took in their 40 arctic sites. Photo credit: Liane G. Benning, GFZ

It is still unclear how large these red algal blooms can get, but Lutz estimates they will be widespread.

"Based on personal observations, a conservative estimate would be 50 percent of the snow surface on a glacier [will be covered by the algae] at the end of a melt season," she said. "But this can potentially be even higher."

Lutz and a UK-led team of researchers will work on the Greenland Ice Sheet this summer to continue studies of the algae. The ice sheet is currently experiencing record-breaking ice melt, which started two months early this year, EcoWatch reported. About 12 percent of Greenland's ice sheet was melting as of April 11.

The team will investigate whether the algae is contributing to the record melting and to what extent.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

Greenland's Ice Melt Breaks Record, Starting Nearly Two Months Early

The Link Between Climate Change and Drought

NOAA: World's Worst Coral Bleaching Event to Continue 'With No Signs of Stopping'

Methane Emissions From Onshore Oil and Gas Equivalent to 14 Coal Plants Powered for One Year

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Leonardo DiCaprio/Getty

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Awards $20M in Largest-Ever Portfolio of Environmental Grants

Environmental activist and Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio announced that his foundation has awarded $20 million to more than 100 organizations supporting environmental causes.

This is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation's (LDF) largest-ever portfolio of environmental grants to date. The organization has now offered more than $80 million in total direct financial impact since its founding in 1998.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Andrew Hart/Flickr

UN Environment Chief: Make Polluters, Not Taxpayers, Pay For Destroying Nature

Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nations' Environment Program, made an interesting point during a recent speech in New York: Companies, not taxpayers, should pay the costs of damaging the planet.

"The profit of destroying nature or polluting the planet is nearly always privatized, while the costs of polluting the planet or the cost of destroying ecosystems is nearly always socialized," Solheim said Monday, per Reuters, at the annual International Conference on Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Keep reading... Show less
Soy was one of the key agricultural crops found to have decreased nutritional content when grown in a high C02 environment. Bigstockphoto

C02 and Food: We Can't Sacrifice Quality for Quantity

Bigger isn't always better. Too much of a good thing can be bad. Many anti-environmentalists throw these simple truths to the wind, along with caution.

You can see it in the deceitful realm of climate change denial. It's difficult to keep up with the constantly shifting—and debunked—denier arguments, but one common thread promoted by the likes of the Heartland Institute in the U.S. and its Canadian affiliate, the misnamed International Climate Science Coalition, illustrates the point. They claim carbon dioxide is good for plants, and plants are good for people, so we should aim to pump even more CO2 into the atmosphere than we already are.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Meet the 4 Horsemen of the EPA-pocalypse

By Mary Anne Hitt

Every week, another decision that endangers our families seems to come out of Scott Pruitt's and Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The latest facepalm/outrage comes in the form of confirmation hearings that start this week for four completely unacceptable nominees to critical leadership positions at EPA.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

Trump's Pick for Top EPA Post Under Scrutiny for Deep Ties to Chemical Industry

From Scott Pruitt to Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump has notoriously appointed a slew of individuals with serious conflicts of interests with the departments they oversee.

The latest is Michael L. Dourson, Trump's pick to head the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the government's chemical safety program. Media reports reveal that the toxicologist is under intense scrutiny for his extensive ties to the chemical industry and a resumé dotted with some of the biggest names in the field: Koch Industries Inc., Chevron Corp., Dow AgroSciences, DuPont and Monsanto.

Keep reading... Show less
Researchers warn that unchecked fossil fuel emissions would raise global temperatures to catastrophic levels. Gerry Machen / Flickr

New Study: Global Warming Limit Can Still Be Achieved

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the UK have good news for the 195 nations that pledged to limit global warming to well below 2°C: it can be done. The ideal limit of no more than 1.5°C above the average temperatures for most of human history is possible.

All it requires is an immediate reduction in the combustion of fossil fuels—a reduction that will continue for the next 40 years, until the world is driven only by renewable energy.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Hurricane-damaged Barbuda. Caribbean Community / Flickr

Devastated Island Leaders: Climate Change 'A Truth Which Hits Us'

As residents in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands prepared to take cover from Hurricane Maria, representatives of island nations devastated by hurricanes made a plea to the UN for recovery funding.

In a hastily-convened special session, leaders of Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and other nations detailed the billions of dollars needed to rebuild after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and argued that the increasing impacts of climate change on island nations required a rethinking of how the UN provides humanitarian aid.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel / Facebook

National Guard Chief Highlights Climate Change as Pruitt Touts Denial on TV

Climate change could be causing storms to become "bigger, larger, more violent," underlining the need to have a robust military response to disasters across the country, the top officer of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday.

"I do think that the climate is changing, and I do think that it is becoming more severe," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters, noting the number of severe storms that have hit the U.S. in the past month. The general might want to take U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt aside for a chat on climate change and disasters: Pruitt sat down for two friendly interviews on Fox yesterday to tout his idea for a red team/blue team "debate" on climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox