Conservation efforts should consider the effects of 'watermelon snow'

Credit: Anna Boyle/ Credit: Anna Boyle/

Pink algae is accelerating glacial melting — you heard that right. Nick-named ‘watermelon snow’, the crimson-colored snow is the result of Chlamydomonas nivalis and similiar speciesgrowing rapidly. This algae grows on icebergs and colors the snow a pinkish-crimson color. The darker color of the snow makes it melt faster. In fact, the algae may have cause up to six percent of glacial melting.

Interestingly, the more the glacial snow melts, the the more the algae is prone to growth, causing a negative feedback loop. However, if the algae is cleaned up altogether, the exposed ice-sheet reflects less and absorbs more heat which again, increases the rate at which the ice melts. Also, the amount of fertilizer in the surrounding areas, increases the nutrients in the ice, which causes algae growth to amplify andin turn, increases the rate of melting.

A team from Alaska Pacific University (APU) conducted a study of the algae. Adding more algae at specific regions caused more melting, scientists found. By using satellite technology over 700 square kilometers, the team found that within the region studied, the algae was responsible for up to 17 percent of melting (the rest was caused by warm weather).

“We used everything from microscopes to satellites,” said Roman Dial, a biologist at APU. This is one of the first times algae’s effects on glacial melting has been studied extensively. Algae needs warmth to grow, which is why warmer climate encourages growth.

A scientist at the University of Bristol says that “There’s a growing push to understand the impact of microorganisms on glaciers and ice sheets,”. Some scientists believe the last snows on Earth for some time will thus have a pink hue and that should be taken into account while planning and studying conservation efforts.