• Mysterious pink ice discovered in the Alps

    Date:6 July 2020 Author: Kirsten Jacobs

    Scientists in Italy are studying the puzzling discovery of pink glacial ice that has mysteriously appeared on parts of the Presena glacier in the Alps.

    It is believed the pink ice is caused by an algae called Ancylonema nordenskioeldii that accelerates the effects of climate change, although researchers are unsure where the algae comes from.

    The same algae has been found in Greenland’s ‘Dark Zone’, a strip of fast-melting ice towards the south-west of the island’s ice sheets. Biagio Di Mauro of Italy’s National Research Council argues the pink snow is most likely caused by this algae found in Greenland, and says the algae itself is not dangerous.

    “The alga is not dangerous, it is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the spring and summer periods in the middle latitudes but also at the Poles,” said Di Mauro.

    The impact of this algae on the natural environment, however, could be detrimental as it quickens the rate of the ice melting. Ice typically reflects over 80% of the sun’s radiation back into the atmosphere. Algae, however, can darken ice to allow it to absorb more heat, and thus causes it to melt faster. As the ice melts faster, more algae appears as it can grow in the liquid water, and adds a red hue to the white ice.

    “Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of radiation,” added Di Mauro.

    “In summer, these are plentiful and the algal bloom takes off. Because algae are dark in colour – they reinforce the dark zone. Thereby you get a positive feedback effect where the ice sheet absorbs even more solar radiation producing yet more melt,” said Alun Hubbard, a glaciologist with the Norwegian Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate.

    Ice melting faster could cause a rise in sea levels, which could have a detrimental impact on coastal habitants further inland. It can also cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding and a lost habitat for fish, birds and plants.

    “Average sea levels have swelled over 8 inches (about 23 cm) since 1880, with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Every year, the sea rises another .13 inches (3.2 mm),” wrote National Geographic in 2019.

    Picture: Twitter / @tveitdal 

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