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‘Glacier Blood’ Is Our Latest Nightmare

‘Glacier Blood’ Is Our Latest Nightmare

The red stains aren't actual blood, but they're still a sign of danger.

Glaciers in the French Alps look like the scene of a massacre. Normally topped with pristine, white snow, they’re increasingly covered with dark, bloody-looking spots dubbed “glacier blood.”

The blotches aren’t actually blood—they’re microalgae blooms. It’s a phenomenon known as Chlamydomonas nivalis, wherein species of green algae that contain a red pigment undergo photosynthesis and stain the snow. But while the scenes may not show an actual murder, they do portend a dangerous future for ice in the Alps.

To learn more about these strange stains—and about what they can tell us about the climate crisis—a group of French scientists recently embarked on a project called AlpAlga. In a study published on Monday in Frontiers in Plant Science that details their results, the team described the algal blooms as “potential markers of climate change.”

Varieties that produce red, orange, or purple hues are found in mountain ranges all over the world, including not only the Alps but also the Rockies and even Greenland and Antarctica. As these snow-covered regions warm up amid the climate crisis, researchers have long suspected that more snowmelt is providing the ideal conditions for this algae to bloom, leading to an increase in pink snow.

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