Over the weekend, pink snow was seen on the Presena glacier in the Italian Alps. Scientists say this is not good news in the fight against climate change.
The pink snow, often called watermelon snow, comes from algae that often appear during the spring and summer months in Italy. Scientists believe the algae, known as Ancylonema nordenskioeldi, is the same found in Greenland’s Dark Zone, where glacial ice melt is rapidly increasing.
This particular alga is not harmful to the surrounding wildlife but the size of the current growth will have negative consequences on the overall stability of the glacier.
“Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of [the sun’s] radiation,” said Biagio Di Mauro from Italy’s National Research Council.
The more algae on the glacier, the more heat it absorbs, the faster the ice will melt. During the snowmelt, more algae grow as the water and air give it the nutrients it needs to thrive. Thus the glacier gets trapped in a vicious cycle.
This news is particularly concerning for the Presena glacier. It has already lost more than a third of its volume in the early 1990s.
The spread was discovered only a few weeks after conservationists started covering the glacier with white tarps to help slow the melting process. The tarps mimic snow by reflecting sunlight and allowing the glacier to maintain its temperature. They are anchored down with bags of sand and sewn together to prevent warm air from getting through.
This project began in 2008, with only 30,000 sq meters covered. Now, the team covers up to 100,000 sq meters after the skiing season is over. The tarps have been successful over the years, but there’s no telling how they will hold up against the encroaching algae.
As one local tourist said, “Overheating of the planet is a problem, the last thing we needed was algae.”
- Pink Snow in Italy [CNN]
- Algae in the Italian Alps [The Guardian]
- Covering Italy’s glaciers [The Guardian]
- Feature Picture [Flickr]