The researchers plan a return visit to the Greenland Ice Sheet this summer to continue studying the relationship between algae and glaciers. On shocking aspect for scientists is that even if the phenomenon (snow algae interaction in cold surfaces’ albedo) has demonstrated alarming percentages in melting, the impact has not, so far, been included in climate models.
Because albedo change directly affects glacial melt, watermelon snow can give clues as to how climate shifts, and what effect global warming is having on the Arctic. This causes the Earth to absorb more sunlight and heat up even more. This is causing the snowfields and glaciers that cool Earth by reflecting sunlight to withdraw.
A new study reveals that the red algae Chlamydomonas nivalis located in the Arctic have a direct influence on the melting of glaciers. “With temperatures rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon will likely also increase leading to an even higher bio-albedo effect”. “The new study by Stefanie Lutz, postdoc at the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ and at the University of Leeds, shows a 13 per cent reduction of the albedo over the course of one melting season caused by red-pigmented snow algal blooms”, according to a news report published by Science Daily.
Researchers collected about 40 samples from 21 glaciers across the Pan-European Arctic, in particular, four regions were involved in the research: Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. “Therefore the melting of snow and ice surfaces controls the abundance of the algae”. Scientists have known about this so-called “blood snow” for some time (even Aristotle mentioned it in his writings), but exactly how much it reduced the glacier’s reflectivity, also known as albedo (or “whiteness”), wasn’t known un spells doom for the glaciertil now.
It looks like the makings of a delicious snow cone, but this pink “watermelon snow” is the effect of snow-dwelling algae that contain a reddish pigment and thrive in freezing water.
A blanket of red-pigmented algae, known as ‘watermelon snow, ‘ is increasing the rate at which glaciers melt and speeding up global warming, a recent study in the journal Nature Communications reports.
“The algae need liquid water in order to bloom”, she said.
And although scientists have yet to determine how large the algal bloom can get, Lutz says they can become quite widespread in the Arctic during summer. The more algae forms, the more sunlight it absorbs, causing more melting. The snow algae specialist comments on the study: “For the first time ever, researchers have investigated the large-scale effect of microorganisms on the melting of snow and ice the Arctic”.