Is red snow the latest warning sign of a worsening climate crisis?

A phenomenon that sees mountain snow turn from white to pinkish red each year has puzzled scientists for centuries – but now French experts are warning that the increasing prevalence of so-called ‘blood glaciers’ may be a sign of a accelerated global warming.

The Alps are covered with a thick blanket of white snow in winter and spring, but “as the slopes warm up as summer approaches, some mysteriously shift to become different shades of orange, red and red ”, The telegraph reports.

Residents of the popular ski destination have dubbed the change “glacier song(“Glacier blood”), while others speak of “snow watermelon”. But experts believe the change in color – which has been reported in mountain ranges around the world – “may be a marker of climate change,” the newspaper explains. And the amount of snow changing shade seems to be increasing.

Aristotelian Alps

Aristotle “was among the first thinkers to take an interest in red snow”, having come across the phenomenon on Mount Parnassus, in central Greece, in the 4th century BC. Time.

The philosopher “attributed the color to hairy worms living in freezing conditions at high altitudes,” the article continues. And he “wasn’t entirely wrong”.

Modern research shows that “in fact, the pinker shade of white is caused by normally invisible algal blooms,” says The Telegraph. These tiny, plant-like organisms produce much of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis and underpin many key food chains.

Although “snow algae blooms are poorly understood,” says The New York Times (NYT), experts determined that the color red “comes from pigments and other molecules that snow algae use to protect themselves from ultraviolet rays.”

Thus, a slight increase in snow algae blooms reported in alpine habitats around the world in recent years “is probably not a good sign,” the newspaper adds.

Under certain conditions, algae can multiply too quickly, causing toxic sludge, red tides – and alpine “watermelon snow”.

And according to the conclusions of the Alpaca project, a new survey on algae in alpine soils carried out by French scientists, “the appearance of ‘red snows’, already known in antiquity, seems to be more and more frequent at high altitudes, as well as in arctic and antarctic regions ”.

“Dig deeper”

“When you ski, you slide on these micro-algae,” project manager Eric Marechal, head of a plant physiology laboratory at the University of Grenoble Alpes, told the Telegraph. “But you don’t notice them because they are green and fewer in number.

“They live on carbon dioxide and light. Next are the bacteria that eat them. It is when the sun’s rays get very strong, starting in May, that they create a shield of red molecules that play the same role as sunscreen.

In an effort to find out why blood glaciers have thrived in recent years, his team “took soil samples found in five peaks at different elevations to create a snow bloom map,” and studied the algae recovered to study their potential triggers for proliferation, the paper reports.

The scientists – who set out their preliminary findings in an article in the Frontiers in plant sciences log – suggest that the spread of snow algae may be a marker of climate change for three reasons.

The first, Maréchal said, “is that algae are photosynthetic and live off carbon dioxide,” which increases due to the burning of fossil fuels.

“Second, all other blooms in nature, such as algae in lakes, are linked to human activity and emissions of nitrates and phosphates,” he continued. “We believe that is the case here and that they reach high altitude snow rather like acid rain.”

The third reason “is that all mountain dwellers have noticed that while these blooms were quite rare in the past, they are now observable every year” – a trend that seems to follow with increasing extreme weather conditions.

The research team will then “try to establish whether the temperature patterns correlate with the blooms,” reports the NYT. Experts will also keep “track of how the distribution of species has changed over time, which may shed light on the overall health of the ecosystem.”

“We know so little,” Adeline Stewart, co-author of the study, who worked on the project as a doctoral student at the University of Grenoble Alpes in France, told the newspaper. “We have to dig deeper. “

Another key goal is to get to the bottom of the impact algae can have on melting glaciers and snow. Scientists “suspect that because the red pigments absorb heat, they accelerate environmental changes,” reports the Times.

“It’s a paradox,” said study manager Marechal. “The more microalgae multiply, the more they contribute to the disappearance of their own environment.


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