Planet Earth Sounds Warning Alarm By Turning Glaciers Pink

Planet Earth Sounds Warning Alarm By Turning Glaciers Pink

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Planet Earth Sounds Warning Alarm By Turning Glaciers Pink

Pink snowmelt on Mt. Rainier | Photo: rnast |  Cover: Will Beback

During my college study abroad course in London, I lit out for the Swiss Alps the first weekend I was able to get away. From the hostel where I was staying, I was able to locate an outfitter willing to lower me into a crevasse and provide a few tips on the proper ice climbing techniques for extracting myself. As we hiked up a glacier looking for a suitable slash in the ice, I was baffled by red streaks bleeding into the sun-cupped snow pack. I would see it again and gain in attempts on Rainier the next summer. I asked around and received some vaguely scientific answers.

I was surprised when my skier-centric question was answered by The New Yorker (*cultured AF– I know). Like so many climate-related developments these days, this ‘red snow’ is just one bellweather of what our future climate in the mountain might look like.  

Pink snowmelt on Mt. Rainier | Photo: rnast

if you’ve seen the same scarlet streaks on your own glacial pursuits and are interested in how they got there:

The most important thing to know about that red snow/ice is that it’s made up of living organisms not all that different from seaweed. They are single-celled organisms on the hunt for liquid water (like us, apparently, ice can only slake these creatures’ thirst once it’s melted), thus growing more numerous as temperatures rise.

For the same reasons you wear light colors to stay cool in harsh sunlight, global ice coverage that’s white or grey has a cooling effect on the planet as a whole. 

Green algal cell (Chlamydomonas nivalis) responsible for red coloration of mountain snow packs. This organism utilizes pollutants carried in snow as a food source and reduces the acidity of meltwater | Image: USDA

Watermelon snow, unfortunately, does not share that same reflective property. And when you hear climate scientists fretting over the loss of global sea ice coverage, they’re usually worried about more than our oceans getting a few inches deeper. 

“If microbes help melt the snow, that water might help even more algae grow. That could create a “feedback” cycle where increased melting creates conditions for even more melting. Or that’s what scientists suspected. But to be sure, they need to acquire some data from testing. “Science News For Students

The knock-on danger is that less sunlight will be reflected back into the atmosphere and instead will be reabsorbed by the earth. It turns out, watermelon snow is doing just that. Being dark in color, it absorbs more heat than it reflects causing the global temperature to rise and amplifying the effects of Climate Change. 

Find the entire New Yorker article here: Why the Last Snow on Earth May Be Red

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