Some women may love all things pink but the strange appearance of pink snow and glacial ice in the Italian Alps may be a sign of environmental catastrophe. Despite its rosy appearance, the pink snow is believed to be caused by the algae that make ice darker, causing it to melt faster. This is according to a team of Italian scientists currently investigating the matter as reported by The Guardian.
Pink snow in the Presena glacier
The Presena glacier in northern Italy is protected from global warming. Every summer, some parts are covered with giant white reflective tarps that block the sun’s rays. The area is continuously shrinking and conservationists have been trying to stop its melting. Despite these efforts, though, the glacier now faces another threat in the form of algae called Ancylonema nordenskioeldii. An aerial view of the Presena glacier near Pellizzano shows the pink-colored snow.
Biagio Di Mauro from Italy National Research Council told the daily that the alga that turns the snow pink is not dangerous. It is even a natural phenomenon happening during summer and spring periods at the Poles and in the middle latitudes. However, like all algae, the plant amplifies the melting effects of climate change.
Di Mauro, whose previous study focused on the algae at Switzerland's Morteratsch glacier, added that the pink snow is caused by the same algae responsible for the ice and snow discoloration in Greenland’s Dark Zone. Everything that darkens the snow also causes it to melt as “it accelerates the absorption of radiation,” he added.
Ice normally reflects over 80% of the sun’s radiation into the atmosphere. The whiter the snow, the more effective it is at reflecting the sun’s rays into space, thus keeping things cool. On the other hand, as the glacier changes its color, it also loses its ability to bounce back heat so the snow is melting faster. Global warming is already doing enough to harm the mountain and polar regions. How much more if we consider the impact of algae blooms on snow and ice? Di Mauro said that their team is now trying to quantify the effect of the phenomena aside from the overheating of the planet and the impact of humans.
The Italian scientists believe that with the presence of ski lifts, which transports hikers up the hill, the hikers could likewise affect the algae. “We are already at the point of no return, I think,” Di Mauro said, referring to how we humans are causing irreversible damage to the glacier.
Elisa Pongini from Florence also said that it felt as if the planet is giving back what we have done to it. She describes how terrible things occurred in 2020. Aside from climate change, atmospheric phenomena are worsening.
Watermelon snow previously observed in other parts of the world
This is not the first time that a watermelon snow bloom has been observed. A mountain pass in Alaska called Hatcher Pass saw some pink snow a few weeks ago. Ukrainian researchers on Galindez Island also witnessed the same event although they said the ice appears bloody or red than pink. Yosemite National Park in California also treated its visitors last year with a pink snow view. Rangers have shared photos of the rare weather event on social media. The rangers mentioned how the pink snow is a pretty common occurrence in the park. The post explains that some snow at elevations higher than 9,500 feet can appear red or pink in the summer months.
A 2019 study that appeared in the journal The Cryosphere also highlights how glaciers in the European Alps play an important role in the hydrological cycle. They have large touristic importance and are a source of hydroelectricity. Yet, two-thirds of glacier ice in the Alps may melt by 2100. Authors Harry Zekollari from Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) and colleagues warned that about 47% to 52% of some 4,000 glaciers in the Alps could disappear by 2050 because of global carbon emissions.
In the same year, ETH Zurich’s seismic glaciologist Fabian Walter told the New York Times that scientists have developed an intimate understanding as to how glaciers behave but there is still a lot that we don’t understand, such as when, why, and how a certain body of ice may collapse. The landscape continues to evolve in ways that are not easy to anticipate due to climate change. Another study found that emissions from burning fossil fuels are the biggest culprit behind why the ice melts in the Arctic.
Global fossil fuel consumption
There has been a large diversification of fossil energy consumption in the 20th century. Scientific online publication Our World in Data shares the global fossil fuel consumption in 2017 as follows: natural gas (36,703.97 TWh), crude oil (53,752.28 TWh), and coal (43,397.14 TWh).
World glacier inventory and global glacier recession
The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), an information and referral center in the US that supports polar and cryospheric research, provides a map for more than 130,000 glaciers. Its western Europe database contains the glacier inventory for Alps mountains, Apennine mountains, and Pyrenese mountains. It indicates that presently, 10% of the land area of the planet is covered with glacial ice, including the ice sheets, ice caps, and glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland. The glacierized areas cover more than 15 million square kilometers and glaciers store about 69% of the world’s freshwater.
In the contiguous US, the state with the largest area of glaciers is Washington, where melting glaciers provide 1.8 trillion liters or 470 billion gallons of water every summer. NSIDC added that if all land ice melted, the sea level would rise to approximately 230 feet or 70 meters worldwide. The rising sea level is one of the most serious consequences of global warming.
The Arctic region is the largest contributor to the global water cycle and sea-level rise with 31.5% of contribution to volume change from 1961 to 2003. It is followed by high mountain Asia (23.9%), Alaska and coastal mountains (23.0%), Northwestern USA and Southwestern Canada (16.6%), Patagonia Ice Fields (4.7%), and Europe (0.3%). Glaciers in these regions have lost large volumes of ice.
The unusual hue observed in the Presena glacier in Italy is a message to the public that we should transition to a greener and cleaner world.