Watermelon Snow – A Beautiful but Hazardous Phenomenon

The Arctic is one of the coldest regions on the earth, and has a protective snow blanket for much of the year. Unfortunately, the ice and snow in the Arctic has started to melt at an alarming rate over the past few years. This is partially due to the unique phenomenon of watermelon or pink snow, which is the result of a species of algae that are able to survive well in extremely cold temperatures. Even though the algae are green they take on a pink hue, which is then transferred to the snow. Although the effect is quite beautiful, the pink snow is causing ice in the Arctic to fall below the level that should be maintained.

The algae are mostly dormant during the winter, but when the temperature increases in spring they blossom and spread out into the ice and snow. The study of 21 glaciers in the European Arctic shows that this expansion is increasing the amount of snow that is melting each season, as well as the speed at which it is doing so. This is because the algae reduce the snow’s reflectivity (albedo), meaning that more heat is absorbed melting the snow faster. With the glacier melts occurring earlier every year, the algae’s growth is faster than ever.  This creates a cycle that keeps increasing the rate at which the ice and snow melt, which is having adverse effects on the Arctic environment.

shutterstock_30191596The Effects of Watermelon Snow

  1. The planet is absorbing more heat – As the snow’s albedo decreases, more heat is absorbed into the ocean. After this, the heat is released into the atmosphere causing warmer temperatures around the globe.
  2. Rising sea levels – As the sea rises coastal areas are flooded, which destroys the habitat of many creatures. In addition, permanent residents for humans as well as many food sources are no longer within easy access.
  3. Permafrost Melting – Once permanent frozen land masses are now melting and are releasing carbon dioxide and methane while doing so. Both carbon dioxide and methane add significantly to the greenhouse effect, with methane having a global warming potential that is 21 times that of carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases are the main cause of the atmosphere’s unnatural temperature increase.
  4. Unforeseeable Weather Changes – Winter in the northern hemisphere has become unpredictable. Each year it seems that spring arrives earlier and winter approaches later. Animals that are used to the climate changes are now unable to adapt, as well as unexpected landscape changes that are taking place throughout the region.

Scientists plan to continue observing the watermelon snow, and the algae that produce it, and decide whether or not the changes can be slowed down or even stopped altogether without harming the species.

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Published by

rekearney

Futuristic Sci Fi writer.

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