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Mystery surrounding pink snow on Italian glacier

Scientists are investigating the mysterious pink color of snow from a glacier in the Italian Alps. The color is likely caused by algae that would accelerate the effects of climate change.

The origin of the algae on the Presena glacier is still unclear, but the algae species Ancylonema nordenskioeldii probably causes the pink color. “The algae is not dangerous. It is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the mid-latitudes in spring and summer, but also at the poles,” said Italian scientist Biagio di Maio of Italy’s largest research center, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), to AFP news agency.

The algae species in question is also present in Greenland, in an area where the ice is melting. Ice reflects more than 80 percent of the sunlight typically in the atmosphere, but the algae darken the ice so that it absorbs more heat and melts faster. Because of that faster melting, more and more algae appear, which gives a pink tint to the glacier on the 2818 meter high Gavia pass.

Scientist Biagio di Maio while sampling the pink snow yesterday on the Presena Glacier near Pellizzano.
©AFP – Scientist Biagio di Maio while sampling the pink snow yesterday on the Presena Glacier near Pellizzano.
Scientist Biagio di Maio while sampling the pink snow yesterday on the Presena Glacier near Pellizzano.
©AFP

“Hikers and ski lifts can also have an effect on algae. In addition, we also try to measure the effect of other phenomena on global warming than those caused by man,” says Di Maio.

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