It is thought the microbes present in 'watermelon snow' are absorbing high amounts of heat from the emerging summer sun and causing glaciers to melt faster than previously thought.
It may look pretty with some calling it ‘watermelon snow’ but scientists are discovering that this red snow phenomenon could be speeding up Arctic glacier melting.
This red snow is common in snowy locations around the world and occurs when the algae in the snow gets heated as the sun appears more at the beginning of spring and summer. The algae starts off green but like a natural sunscreen, they react by turning a shade of red. The changing of color absorbs the heat and therefore melts the snow much more quickly cancelling out the natural phenomenon called albedo which is when natural white snow reflects the heat of the sun away. It’s similar to wearing a black t-shirt in summer rather than a white one – absorbing the heat and raising your overall body temperature.
The research conducted by Stefanie Lutz, a geobiologist at GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences and colleagues from several different universities, examined the red algae in snow across the world and found its presence to be so vast and significant that they believe it should be factored into climate change models.
With the red algae present, the melting of Arctic glaciers in particular could be sped up by at least 13 percent – a significant and worrying increase. Forty samples were taken from 21 glaciers and genetic sequencing of the microbes was carried out. It was discovered that the red algae was most likely to be the same strain as it showed little biodiversity between all samples.
As of yet, more research needs to be done to know the full effects the ‘watermelon snow’ is having on rising sea levels and it is hoped the more information scientists discover about it, the chances of finding solutions to the ever-increasing threat of climate change on the Arctic circle can be found.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.