Pink snow is not an isolated phenomenon observed in the Arctic. It was first documented in the XIXth Century, but it was only in the XXth Century that researchers realized that the strange snow was in fact caused pink algae blooming in the snow.
A recent study, however, has found that the prolific algae Chlamydomonas nivalis may team up with climate change to accelerate the rate of Arctic melting.
Biologists explained that the algae are initially green but as they age and absorb more UV rays they become pink. The cold-loving species thrives in high-altitude snow, which gets a pink color during the algae’s blooming season. The snow is also known as “watermelon snow” or “blood snow.”
An international team of researchers recently found that the algae make the snow less reflective and causes it to melt faster than common white snow.
The team based their research on 40 pink-snow samples taken from more than a dozen Arctic glaciers from Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, and Norway.
The research team focused on the pink snow’s albedo or ability to reflect sun rays. They explained that surfaces with a small albedo tend to absorb more solar radiation and draw more heat.
For example, the world’s darkest synthetic material has an albedo of just 0.035, which means that more than 99.5 percent of solar radiation is absorbed. By contrast, whitish objects tend to reflect more solar radiation and stay cool. This is why it is highly recommend wearing white outfits during hot, summer days.
Now scientists are concerned that non-white snow may accelerate the melting process in the Arctic. They noted that the algae decreased glaciers’ albedo by 13 percent. They advise climate scientists to take into account similar natural processes when building their models.
Nevertheless, the team acknowledged that they currently don’t know how bad the situation really is. But they are concerned that as snow melts, more algae will bloom as they receive more nutrients from meltwater. And if more algae will bloom the pinker the snow and the higher the chances for the snow to thaw.
And a warm Arctic is not a piece of good news for everybody. Humans living on coastal areas and polar bears will find it really hard to thrive among rising sea levels.
A research paper detailing the findings was published June 22 in Nature Communications.
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