The Aktru Glacier, located in the Altai Republic, has recently attracted the attention of the scientific community and the general public with its unusual red hue. Scientists from Tomsk State University (TSU) conducted research and concluded that this phenomenon is associated with a massive algae bloom, which, in turn, may accelerate the glacier’s melting process.
A single-cell alga called Chlamydomonas snow (Chlamydomonas nivalis) plays a major role in this natural spectacle. At subzero temperatures, this alga acquires a reddish hue, which gives the glacier its characteristic color.
Mass blooming of algae occurs in the Altai Mountains every year, but this year it became especially bright because of the large amount of snow that fell in the high mountains. Scientists note that this year’s winter was the snowiest in the last 30 years, and the snow on the glaciers did not melt until July. It is in such conditions that a species of red algae actively develops in the snow residue, especially when it is heated to 0 degrees Celsius in the daytime.
Alexander Erofeev, head of the Laboratory of Glacioclimatology at TSU’s Faculty of Geology and Geography, warns that this phenomenon could accelerate the melting of the Aktru glacier, which has already lost more than 25 percent of its mass over the past 60 years. Particularly intense reddening has been observed near the Three Lakes Dome summit. The change in the glacier’s color leads to a decrease in its albedo – its ability to reflect the sun’s rays and protect it from heating. Preliminary estimates show that the decrease in albedo due to algal blooms on the Aktru Glacier may reach 13-17 percent.
This natural phenomenon is of serious concern to scientists and environmentalists, as it indicates negative changes in the environment. The melting of glaciers is one of the main causes of global warming and rise in the level of the world’s oceans. Therefore, the red Aktru glacier can be considered as an alarm signal that reminds us of the need to take care of nature and take measures to protect the environment.