Mysterious Pink Ice on Italian Alps Melts the Snow Dramatically Faster

The mysterious pink algae make snow melt even faster and lead to climate change concerns.
Fabienne Lang

If you fell upon pink snow during your ski trip, what would you think? Probably not that it's due to algae, something that's usually found by the sea.

Scientists in Italy discovered just that when they found pink glacial ice in the Alps, due to pink algae that make snow melt even faster than usual — causing even more drastic climate change effects. 

It's still unsure where the algae originated from, but researchers believe that the pink algae found on sections of the Presana glacier in Italy resemble the kind found in Greenland.


Climate change and pink algae

"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 Biagi Di Mauro, part of Italy's National Research Council and who had previously studied algae on Switzerland's Morteratsch glacier. 

The algae are known as Ancylonema nordenskioeldii, and are also found in Greenland. 

Typically, ice reflects around 80% of the sun's radiation back up into the atmosphere, but when pink algae are present they darken the ice and it ends up absorbing heat and melting more quickly. 

Unfortunately, as more algae appear, more ice melts. So now the typical snow white ice at Italy's Passo Gavia up at 2,618 meters (8,590 feet) high has pinkish hues. 

"Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of radiation," explained Di Mauro."We are trying to quantify the effect of other phenomena besides the human one on the overheating of the Earth."

Di Mauri also noted that the presence of hikers and ski lifts could also be having an effect on the algae in the area. 

If these pink algae remain or increase around the globe, more and more ice will melt more quickly — which is something that's not needed as glaciers are already melting at rapid rates around the world.

It's not just ice that turns pink, though, sometimes it's lakes — same plant but its impact is hugely different.

message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron