New Study Finds Algae That Melt Arctic Ice

albedoNot many have heard of the albedo effect, where microorganisms are theorized to be melting the Arctic. This is displayed by pink snow.

The researcher Stefanie Lutz published a study about the decline of albedo, or reflection of sunlight on the earth’s surface, in snow and ice caused by pink algae. 40 samples from 21 Pan-European Arctic glaciers were analyzed.

Although the algae is only one player behind the melting of the Arctic, carbon emissions contribute to global warming and in essence will increase their incidence.

Lutz explains, “The algae need liquid water in order to bloom. Therefore the melting of snow and ice surfaces controls the abundance of the algae. The more melting, the more algae. With temperatures rising globally, the snow algae phenomenon will likely also increase leading to an even higher bio-albedo effect.”

It was estimated that over one melt season, snow albedo can decrease by 13%. Lutz stated, “Our results point out that the “bio-albedo” effect is important and has to be considered in future climate models.”

In other words, the Earth is expected to absorb more sunlight as a result of decreased albedo. Normally the planet attempts to cool itself by reflecting the sun, but the melting of glaciers decreases this effect.

The red snow algae is known to stay dormant as spores during the winter. The algae blossoms in the late spring into the summer. As the ice melts, the pink becomes noticeable to observers.

This indicates that the algal blooms are pretty widespread. Lutz assumes its presence is detrimental, “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.”

Lutz plans to finalize the actual impact that the red snow algae has on glacial melt in the future.


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