Red or pink snow plays a significant role in the unprecedented high rates of Arctic’s melting, according to a recent study. Researchers found out that red snow changes snow’s sunlight reflection, a biological phenomenon that allows environmental harmony.
During summer times, it is very common to appreciate red snow on glaciers or ice surfaces. This occurs because of melting of algae communities. Both water and sunlight feed the red algae, resulting in algal blooms on icy regions. When these mycobacteria receive a considerable amount of sunshine, they produce a natural sunscreen that paints glaciers in pink or red.
A recent study suggests that the colored snow increases glacier melt because it blocks glacier’s ability to reflect light and consequently, the Arctic soaks up more sun heat.
linked to our @NatureComms paper a @GFZ_Potsdam press release by @jz_GFZ https://t.co/fDHeffAyix #snow #algae #albedo @SteffiLutz
— Liane G. Benning (@LianeGBenning) June 22, 2016
Albedo or ‘ground reflectance’
The term refers to sunlight reflection on the ground, which means that some surfaces have the ability to reflect sunlight. Such is the case of white surfaces of surfaces covered with snow or ice, and these surfaces have high albedo reflection of ground reflectance.
According to the study, entitled “The biogeography of red snow microbiomes and their role in melting Arctic glaciers,” red snow algae reduces albedo in glaciers or snowy places causing extra absorption of solar heat, which leads to more melting in the icy surfaces.
A team of scientists from the University of Leeds and the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ determined that pink snow lessens sunlight reflection in snowy or icy surfaces by 13 percent in the areas where it appears.
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. Although diverse bacteria samples were found, the red bacteria samples presented little biodiversity, which means that the findings are pointing out the meltdown in glaciers caused by snow algae was pretty accurate.
Researchers used various instruments and genetic sequencing methods to evaluate the snow algae as well as other mycobacteria found in the Arctic.
Cosmopolitan snow algae accelerate melting of Arctic glaciers https://t.co/I73Fre9BbU
— Canadian Geographers (@CanGeographers) June 22, 2016
Thus, snow algae affect the biological process of albedo causing harmful consequences on icy terrains. 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.
They have therefore decided that it must be evaluated how much melt is caused by snow algae to consider the phenomenon in future climate models.
The findings were published in Nature Communications.
Source: Nature Communications