Glacial Melting and ‘Watermelon Snow”

According to recent measurements taken on Alaska’s Harding Icefield, an algae species is responsible for about a sixth of the snow melting in algae tinged areas. A microbe called Chlamydomonas nivalis grows on glaciers and causes their snow to turn a red hue. Which in turn, causes their snow to melt faster because they sun beats down on the snow in those places more. The pink colored snow is referred to as “watermelon snow”.

The news findings and measurements show that future studies on climate change and the melting of the glaciers should also include glaciers that are affected by Chlamydomonas nivalis. This microbe thrives in cold water and temperatures, so glaciers and snowfields are the ideal place for these microbes to grow and survive. Blooms usually pop up in the summer and spring, but it will come back year after year. Recent research showed that this algae causes the darker spots to melt faster when the algae is spreading. Therefore, it will quicken the melting of full snowfields every year if it keeps spreading and returning.

Scientists have been experimenting on the algae by putting more in certain spots on the glaciers and take algae away on others by using bleach. After a few months, they had some interesting results. The areas that were stripped of the algae by bleach did not grow as fast as the the areas that they sprayed with the algae. The sprayed algae areas were three times more likely to melt down to slush or exposed ice. Exposing ice could amplify the algae’s melting effects because bare ice reflects less and absorbs more sunlight than clean snow.The scientists concluded that there is a growing concern for microbes and microorganisms that should be looked at when measuring the melting of glaciers and snowfields.

This article relates to our class because scientists using measuring tools to conduct their research. Over the course of 6 months to a year, they used mathematics to figure out how much the glaciers and snowfields were melting. Without being able to use mathematics, their research wouldn’t be as valid or correct. Also, the scientists are worried about sustaining our glaciers and snowfields.



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