The glaciers of French Alps looks like the scene of a massacre. Normally covered with pristine white snow, they are increasingly covered in dark and bloody spots nicknamed “the blood of the glaciers”. “
The stains are not actually blood, they are microalgae blooms. It is a phenomenon known as Chlamydomonas nivalis, in which species of green algae that contain a red pigment undergo photosynthesis and stain snow. But while the scenes don’t show a real murder, they do foreshadow a dangerous future for ice cream in the Alps.
To learn more about these strange spots – and what they can tell us about the climate crisis – a group of French scientists recently embarked on a project dubbed AlpAlga. In one study published Monday in Frontiers in Plant Science which details their findings, the team described algal blooms as “potential markers of climate change.”
Varieties that produce red, Orange, or purple hues are found in mountain ranges around the world, including not only the Alps but also the rockies and even Greenland and Antarctic. Like these snows regions are warming amid climate crisis, researchers have long suspected more snow is melting provides the ideal conditions for this algae to flourish, resulting in an increase in pink snow.
The AlpAlga team wanted to see if this was true, so in 2016 they embarked on an expedition to collect soil samples. from five sites in the French Alps at altitudes ranging from 3,280 to 9,842 feet (1,000 to 3,000 meters) above sea level. The trek left them with 158 soil specimens, which they carefully took care of. studied.
Since the soil is full of pieces of DNA lost by all kinds of life, the soil samples allowed scientists to create a clear picture of where dozens of different varieties of algae live. Researchers have found that different species of algae thrive at different altitudes.
For example, scientists have discovered that a genus of algae known as blood, which produces a blood red tint, was only localized at altitudes above 6,562 feet (2,000 meters). Two varieties of green microalgae called Desmococcus and Symbiochloris, in contrast, only live at elevations below 4,921 feet (1,500 meters).
The sharply separated distribution suggests that different types of algae depend on very specific thermal conditions to live. But as climate change intensifies mountain ecosystems and shortens the snow season, he could disrupt the life cycles of organisms.
This is bad news because, like the microalgae that live in bodies of water, glacial algae form the basis of food webs in mountain ecosystems. As the snow becomes covered with algae, it could also further destabilize the remaining glaciers and snow patches in the Alps, as the black algae absorb more energy. that white and shining snow. This could mean more warming for the region already facing a huge collapse.
The new research is just the start of the AlpAlga team’s attempts to determine exactly which environmental conditions trigger algal blooms, how climate change and snowmelt affect its life cycles, and how these blooms affect the remaining ice. Scientists plan to continue their work with an expedition to the Alps this month, examining how flowers change in different seasons. They hope this will teach them more about how these organisms – and the Alps as a whole– could change as the planet continues to warm.
One thing is clear, however: climate change is already killing the ice in the region. The European Alps have already warmed by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial temperatures, which is faster than the global average. Scientists have discovered everything Relics of the First World War has a couple once buried in ice. Studies show the mountains are on the way to losing at least half of their glaciers by the middle of the century, which means a fate even more gruesome than snow of blood could be in the future of the Alps if we do not tackle carbon emissions quickly.