Science & Environment

‘Watermelon Snow’ Is The Hot Thing In Utah Right Now

LOGAN, Utah (AP) — High up within the mountains, amid pinyon pine and quaking aspen bushes, the remaining remnants of the winter’s snow is dotted with hues of pinks, purples and oranges.

Hikers, campers and church youth teams journeying by grasp it of their palms and liken it to flavored snow cones, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, pink lemonade, dissolved blood or if passersby performed an artwork venture utilizing purple food coloring.

“It’s almost like it’s been sprinkled with Himalayan salt or even Kool-Aid powder,” Jana Brough, a mom hiking with family and friends at Tony Grove Lake in Utah’s Logan Canyon, stated this week. “But when you scrape it you can tell it’s just on the surface.”

From the roads that traverse mountain passes above Park City to the Bear River Range close to the Utah-Idaho border, final winter’s report snowfall is heating up, baking beneath the daylight and turning hues of purple. The presence of so-called “watermelon snow” — referred to unofficially resulting from its pinkish tint — is piquing the curiosities of photo-seeking guests and elevating a number of questions on nature, health and local weather. Its prevalence this summer season is especially hanging on ridges and in mountain ranges the place snow would have melted by now in drier years.

The technicolor snow seems in high-altitude environments all through the globe together with the French Alps and Japan’s Mountains of Dewa when an ideal storm of circumstances — water content material, daylight, temperatures and the presence of vitamins — awaken dormant inexperienced algae known as chlamydomonas nivalis that thrive in chilly temperatures. The algae swim to the floor of the snow, the place they bloom and divide. Upon arrival, after they’re hit by solar and ultraviolet rays, their coloration adjustments to soak up radiation and shield themselves from injury.

Scott Hotaling, a Utah State University ecologist who research biodiversity in chilly and high altitude environments, likened the algae’s means to provide a secondary pigment to people, whose pores and skin makes use of pigmentation to soak up ultraviolet radiation and shield from the solar.

“They need some kind of pigmentation to prevent damage related to the high-UV of the environment they’re in. So they produce the secondary pigment largely for that purpose to protect themselves,” he stated.

Hotaling stated the algae poses little threat to human health or to animals like cattle, canine or fish, ought to they encounter it because it melts into water. But although it’s not a threat to scrub water provide, the “watermelon snow” phenomenon does trigger snow to soften extra shortly, elevating environmental considerations about seasonal snowmelt patterns and the longevity of the glaciers the place the algae are identified to thrive.

Though snow changing into water makes it obtainable to nourish the algae, the publicity of naked floor adjustments how a lot mild is mirrored versus absorbed. Darker colours take up extra daylight, turning snow banks and glaciers into liquid extra shortly.

The adjustments within the magnitude and timing of the melting — the publicity of naked floor earlier within the season — may cause issues within the Mountain West, affecting ecosystems and species that depend on cool water downstream and reservoirs designed to accommodate extra gradual snowmelt. In locations just like the Artic, glacier soften may cause sea stage rise, threatening flooding on coastlines and in lakes.

“When we add light-absorbing particles that essentially darken the snow — like snow algae, black carbon or dust — it reduces its ability to reflect solar radiation,” stated Alia Khan, a biogeochemist that research glaciers at Western Washington University.

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