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Italy’s Pink Glazier sparks Environmental Concerns

The appearance of pink ice on Italian Alps for the first time has been a marvel shared across the social media these days. The coloured Ice is also known as the “Watermelon snow” has been noticed at Presena Glacier, a popular winter sports region in Italy’s northern Trentino region, which is already experiencing the consequences of climate change.
Experts have found that the reason for pink ice is a type of Algae known as Chlamydomonas nivalis, and according to Biagio Di Mauro of Italy’s National Research Council, this type of algae are common in the Alps and snowy regions around the world.

Algal blooms are more commonly associated with the world’s oceans. However, scientists say that Algae found in the Alps remain dormant during the winter, and only begins to spread on the ice in the spring and summer seasons when conditions are ideal such as more light and nutrients, plenty of meltwater and a temperature slightly above freezing. The Algae turns to shades of pink and red when exposed to sunlight, which causes it to produce a naturally protective red carotene layer to shield it from harmful ultraviolet radiation. However, it doesn’t always give snow the look of strawberry gelato. But it can also tint ice in shades of brown, violet yellow or green.

The Presena Glacier has seen at least 15% of its glaciers retreat since the beginning of the century. Usually, the ice reflects more than 80% of the sun’s radiation into the atmosphere, but as algae appear, they darken the ice so that it absorbs the heat and melts more quickly. Therefore, the researchers are now looking into whether the proliferation of this natural phenomenon, caused by algae, could speed up the melting process even further.

“We are trying to quantify the effect of other phenomena besides the human one on the overheating of the Earth,” says Di Mauro, noting that the presence of hikers and ski lifts could also have an impact on the algal bloom. Tourists at the glacier lament the impact of climate change. However, scientists have already warned that even if we act swiftly to curb carbon emissions in the coming decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers are expected to disappear by the end of the century.

Further, a study published by the European Geosciences Union (EGU) says that Alps could be ice-free by 2100 if nothing is done to curb CO2 emissions. The study has used computer models to examine ice flow and melt processes. It shows that glaciers in the Alps were already on track to lose about 50% of their total volume by mid-century, no matter what happens with emissions. And Algae growth did not factor into their projections.

Despite the algal issue, every summer the Presena Glazier is protected from the sun using huge reflective tarps to slow down the melting process. The coverings are said to be geotextile tarpaulins that reflect sunlight and maintains a temperature lower than the external environment. On the border between the Lombardy and Trentino Alto Adige regions, workers unroll the sheets in long strips, covering an area at an altitude of 2700-3000m. They move methodically down the mountain under clear blue skies to pull the coverings taut and sew them together to ensure warm drafts do not slip underneath. Bags of sand then act as anchors against the wind.

Amidst various ways adapted to slow down the ice melting due to global warming still, scientists warn that the appearance of the pink ice cannot be a good sign. Whilst the scientists engage in researching the phenomena, the government and responsible institutions should start planning more successful measures to curb the emissions and develop necessary plans to safeguard lives from the long-term effects of global warming.
By Jumana J.

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