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 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.
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:
A coalition of conservation groups and others announced Thursday that a historic number of comments and petitions of support have been submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior in support of Bears Ears National Monument. Despite the entirely inadequate 15-day comment period ending on May 26, more than 685,000 comments in support of Bears Ears National Monument have been collected.
By Lena Moffitt
An oil tanker in Mead, Colorado exploded, killing one and injuring three on Thursday. Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of the explosion.
In an unusual procedural move, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers filed motions Thursday requesting the court's permission to withdraw from the Juliana v. US climate lawsuit, brought by 21 young people. The associations are following the lead of the National Association of Manufacturers, who filed a similar motion to withdraw on May 22.
Twenty-two GOP senators sent a letter Thursday urging Donald Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement. They argued remaining in the deal could "upend" the administration's ability "to fulfill its goal of rescinding the Clean Power Plan."
By Cheryl Johncox
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected on Thursday Energy Transfer Partners' request to resume horizontal directional drilling at two sites for its Rover fracked gas pipeline. This rejection comes after numerous leaks into Ohio's wetlands, and Clean Air and Clean Water act violations. FERC has halted the process at only eight locations of the 32 where drilling is taking place under Ohio's wetlands and streams.
By Nadia Prupis
A majority of people in eight countries say they are ready to change their lifestyles if it would prevent climate catastrophe, a survey on global threats released Wednesday found.
Bill Maher is sick of billionaires' obsession with Mars, more like "Mars-a-Lago," he said.
In a new animation produced by ATTN:, the popular talk show host of Real Time, discusses the perils of our planet, including how "climate change is killing us."