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Study: Arctic’s ‘watermelon snow’ is a climate change indicator

Researchers are coming across pink snow in several Arctic regions caused by the presence of a snow-dwelling algae. Though it is a natural occurrence, the pleasant color of the snow indicates a faster meltdown of ice glaciers.pink-snow

The pink snow phenomenon occurs in snowy places across the world, when the summer sun melts the snowy leftovers. The inedible ‘watermelon snow’ is composed of algae that survive in freezing temperatures and liquid water. The algal blooms occur when there is an increase in the temperature in their surroundings. The reddish or pink color is a natural type of sunscreen produced by the green organisms, after exposure to sun. This color heats up the snow faster, in turn melting the snow quickly.

“With temperatures rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon will likely also increase, leading to an even higher bio-albedo effect,” said lead study author, Steffi Lutz of the University of Leeds.

These algae fasten melting rate by decreasing the albedo effect of glaciers by 13%. Albedo is the proportion of light reflected by an object — dark colored objects such as dark painted houses or dark T-shirts might be unpleasant during summer. The lower the albedo, the more the light and heat it absorbs. In the nineteenth century, researchers thought that the pink coloring was caused by meteoric iron deposits, but present day scientists discovered that it was caused by an algae Chlamydomonas nivalis.

Joseph Cook, a glacialogist at the University of Sheffield said, “a small amount may have a big effect.” Cook who is not involved in the study, is researching about the bacteria’s effect on the albedo of Greenland’s ice sheets, where ice turns brown purple and gray in some places. The pink snow attracts many visitors and can be spotted in the Arctic, Antarctica, the Rockies and the Himalayas that has melting snow. The study has been published in the journal Nature.

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