What gives glacier algae their wild colors?

When a British expedition reported seeing pink mountain snow in 1818, the London Times said: “Our credulity is put to an extreme test upon this occasion, but we cannot learn that there is any reason to doubt the fact as stated.” Two hundred years later, we now can confirm that pink snow (“watermelon snow”) is real and it is caused by certain types of algae. But why is it that snow algae take on such distinctive red and purple colors? And how does this connect to melting glaciers or global sea level rise?

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Snow: More Than Just the Backdrop for your Favorite Winter Olympic Sport

Even if you don’t live anywhere near mountains, it is very possible that the water that comes out of your tap originated as snow in the mountains. Many places rely on melting snow from the mountains to supply water downstream for cities, agriculture, and ecosystems. However, melting is not the only thing that can happen to mountain snowpack and scientists are trying to figure out where else it goes and how that could change in the future.

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