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Consequences of Global Warming: Why the Arctic's Strange Pink Snow is Something We Should Be Scared About

Jun 24, 2016 11:03 PM EDT

Have you ever seen pink snow? It may seem as if someone tipped a gallon of watermelon juice in the ice, but it is actually a natural occurrence caused by snow-dwelling algae. Pretty as it may seem, scientists reveal that the Arctic's pink snow or "watermelon snow" is something we should worry about as it causes ice glaciers to melt faster.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, as global warming continues, populations of the harmful red algae increases, resulting in rapid ice melting in the Arctic. Commonly found in polar and alpine settings like Greenland, Antarctica, the Alps and Iceland, the red algae blooms when they experience a rise in temperature in their surroundings.

They accelerate the melting rate by reducing the glaciers' albedo effect by as much as 13 percent. The albedo effect is a process of glaciers to keep the earth cool by reflecting sunlight. However, as these red algae populate the surface, the glacier surfaces' ability to reflect sunlight decreases.

Steffi Lutz of the University of Leeds and lead author of the study told Gizmodo that the red algae need water in order to bloom and spread. This means that they will increase as snow melts in the Arctic.

"With temperatures rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon will likely also increase leading to an even higher bio-albedo effect," she said. Lutz and her team also estimated the amount of melting that the red algae would have caused.

“Based on personal observations, a conservative estimate would be 50 percent of the snow surface on a glacier at the end of a melt season. But this can potentially be even higher," she said.

This discovery shows how even small organisms such as the red algae could have a greater effect in the long run. As temperature increases, the spread of the red algae in cold places could supercharge global warming.

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