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“Glacier blood,” or “watermelon snow,” is sweeping across the Alps, and researchers are eager to survey the snow to figure out what’s responsible for the mysterious phenomenon—the culprit: algal blooms. A new study has found that the same algae that cause dreaded red tide are now blooming en masse on mountains worldwide. Experts hypothesize that, much like the ocean and freshwater algal blooms, these may also be caused by rapidly warming temperatures and human-made pollution.
Why This Matters: Algae is crucial to all life, producing a large amount of the world’s oxygen. But when algae bloom rapidly, it can poison drinking supplies and kill wildlife. Just as people depend on lakes and rivers for their freshwater, researchers estimate that almost a quarter of the world’s lowland population, 1.5 billion people, will rely on mountain watersheds and snowmelt for their drinking water within the next 30 years. That water is now threatened by increasing algal blooms, in addition to existing threats from temperature rise and glacial bursts. But scientists say that they’re behind the curve on solving this problem.
Don’t Eat the Red Snow: “There’s so little that we know; we need to dig deeper,” said Adeline Stewart, an author of the study and a doctoral student at Grenoble Alpes University in France. Colorful blooms occur all around the world, including in the Rocky Mountains, Greenland, and Antarctica. Researchers took soil samples from five mountain peaks and found that different species of algae bloom at different altitudes. These species span the color spectrum, some even turning the snow purple. Red algae, known as Sanguina, bloomed only at altitudes above 2,000 meters. Green algae, on the other hand, bloomed only below 1,500 meters.
Temperatures in the European Alps have been rising much faster than the global average and have increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures. The world’s mountains could lose half of their glaciers by 2050.
Scientists are determined to understand the direct cause of these increasing snowy blooms. This month, AlpAlga, the French team investigating the “glacier blood,” will embark on an expedition into the Alps to evaluate how algal blooms vary season to season. But as mountains warm and glaciers melt, time is of the essence to find ecological balance on the world’s highest peaks.
by Jessica Grannis We’re in the dog days of summer now, and lots of folks are headed to the beach to make up for lost time since the pandemic began. My favorite part of traveling to the coast from DC is watching my surroundings slowly turn from urban areas to the forests of the coastal […]
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer The West is currently in the middle of a severe drought, and Lake Powell, the region’s second-largest reservoir, is at its lowest level in decades. The lake, located on the Colorado River, is effectively a human-made storage basin that keeps the regional water supply in balance under the 100-year-old […]
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Ongoing heatwaves and mega-drought across the Western U.S. threatened residents with rolling blackouts and even buckling roads. Now, rapidly rising temperatures are taking their toll on renewable energy infrastructure as well. After suffering some of the lowest rainfall rates in 126 years, Northern California’s Edward Hyatt hydroelectric power plant is predicted to shut down for […]
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