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Arctic's pink snow pushing ice glaciers towards faster melting: Research

Pink snow occurs as a result of algae.

You might be seeing a great deal more pink snow on the Arctic's glaciers. More contemporary findings have corroborated this notion.

The phenomenon, sometimes called watermelon snow or blood snow, is actually an algae bloom, The Washington Post reported.

And a warm Arctic is not a piece of good news for everybody. Or polar pranksters? Neither, according to a new study published Wednesday by a team of scientists in England and Germany in the journal Nature Communications. It shows that the red algae darkens the snow, causing it to melt at a faster rate because it absorbs more light and heat. In contrast, little is known about the diversity or function of snow algae, nor their global effect on albedo and hence glacial melting. That's a problem, because the reddish tinge has the effect of lowering a glacier's albedo, the measure of its reflectivity.

An global team of researchers recently found that the algae make the snow less reflective and causes it to melt faster than common white snow.

Researchers from the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ and the University of Leeds collected and studied red snow algae from 21 glaciers across the pan-European Arctic. And so on. This study underscores the far-reaching effects of climate change, down to the smallest of organisms. Our data reveal that red pigmented snow algae are cosmopolitan as well as independent of location-specific geochemical and mineralogical factors.

She added, "With temperatures rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon will likely also increase leading to an even higher bio-albedo effect". When the ice begins to melt and consequently vanishes from the area, more algae are able to bloom and the cycle may continue in the wrong direction. Dark colored objects absorb more light, explaining why darker painted houses feel hotter in the summer time, or why it might be unpleasant to wear black T-shirts in July.

Glaciers help lower the planet's temperature by reflecting sunlight. The growth patterns of the algae were observed through sampling and advanced genetic sequencing techniques. During the summer, the sun is warm enough to cause a slight melting of the surface layers, and this provides the algae with the liquid water they need. As more algae bloom, more snow thaws - and, nourished by the unfrozen water, even more of the microorganisms are able to grow.

Even though researchers are still trying to determine just how large the pink blooms can get, Dr. Lutz believes that they can spread all over the Arctic during summertime.

"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.

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