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ENVIRONMENT | Nature's mysteries

Bizarre watermelon snow appearing on Pacific NW mountains


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, June 11, 2018, 13:53 - Watermelon snow, which looks and smells like -- you guessed it -- watermelon, has been showing up on mountains in the Pacific Northwest and it's leaving experts baffled.

The snow has been reported from Washington to Peru and it's currently being monitored by experts, who aren't sure how long it will remain or if it will come back next year.

(RELATED: WATERMELON SNOW SHOWING UP AT GLACIER NATIONAL PARK)

WHAT IS WATERMELON SNOW?

Here's a photo and description that was posted to Instagram by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Joe Giersch when he documented watermelon snow at Glacier National Park earlier this year:

"Puddle near Grinnell Glacier filled with water from melted watermelon snow," reads the photo's description.

"Watermelon snow is formed by an algal species (Chlamydomonas nivalis) containing a red pigment in addition to chlorophyll. This pigment protects the algal chloroplast from solar radiation and absorbs heat, providing the alga with liquid water as the snow melts around it. As snow melts throughout the summer, the algae are concentrated in depressions on the snow surface (which further accelerates melting), with small populations persisting in puddles through the fall."

Watermelon snow is one of nature's peculiarities. Scientists don't fully understand it, or the long-term impact it could have on the environment.

Here's one thing they do know: Watermelon may look neat but it's not something conservationists want to see.

According to a study in Nature Communications, red algae can reduce a snow's albedo -- i.e., the ability to reflect light -- by up to 13 per cent. That means the snow absorbs more of the sun's energy and melts faster.

Couple that with a stint of above-seasonal temperatures and you've got a recipe for accelerated melting.

Dr. Robin Kodner, an assistant professor of biology at Western Washington University, is at the forefront of watermelon snow research. She's started giving out kits to citizen scientists who want to document and record the phenomenon, which shows up at seemingly random times.

Kits can be ordered from livingsnow.com.

Oh, and one more thing: If you come across a patch of watermelon snow don't eat it. You'll make yourself sick.

VIDEO: GLOW-IN-THE-DARK ALGAE




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