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Scientists probe link between ‘snowblood’ and climate change

« These algae are green. But when they’re in the snow, they build up a bit of pigment, like sunscreen might, to protect themselves.“, explains Eric Maréchal, director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research in Grenoble.

The seaweed was first described by Aristotle in the 3rd century BC. JC. But it was only formally identified and given its Latin name Sanguina nivaloides in 2019.

That’s why scientists are rushing to better understand it before it’s too late. Indeed, the volumes of snow, which dwindle as global temperatures rise, hit the Alps disproportionately.

“There is a double reason to study algae”, explains Maréchal. “The first is that it’s a little explored area and the second is that this little explored area is melting before our eyes so it’s urgent,” he said.

A vicious circle

Some scientists, including CEA Grenoble genetic engineering researcher Alberto Amato, say algae volumes appear to be increasing due to climate change, with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere promoting blooms.

Research is continuing and what is certain is that the presence of algae accelerates the melting of snow, since the pigment in algae reduces its ability to reflect the heat of the sun.

Other types of algae, including a purple variety, as well as soot from forest fires have the same effect. If the algae spreads, the melting of snow and glaciers around the world could accelerate.

“The warmer it is, the more algae there is and the faster the snow melts,” said Alberto Amato. “It’s a vicious circle and we’re trying to figure out all the mechanisms to understand that circle so we can try to fix it. »

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