Known as the “giant of the alps”, Presena sits 3,069 metres above sea level and is described as a paradise for all those who love nature, history and mountain sports. Situated on the border between Val di Sole and Valle Camonica, between Trentino and Lombardy, the glacier is part of the Presanella mountain group.
A type of algae usually found in Greenland has started to grow there – and it’s turning the glacier pink. The plant, known as Ancylonema nordenskioeldii, is present in Greenland’s so-called Dark Zone, where the ice is also melting.
Despite its rosy appearance, pink snow is not good news on the climate change front. Usually, ice reflects over 80 per cent of the sun’s radiation back into the atmosphere. As the ice changes colour, it loses the ability to reflect heat, meaning the glaciers are starting to melt faster.
The pace of melting ice in the mountains was already sufficient cause for concern that a local ski resort, Pontedilegno-Tonale, initiated a conservation project in 2008 using enormous pieces of geotextile fabric to cover up the glaciers all summer, keeping them cold and protecting them from melting.
Biagio Di Mauro of Italy’s National Research Council has been investigating the mysterious appearance of the pink glacial ice and stated “The alga is not dangerous, it is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the spring and summer periods in the middle latitudes but also at the Poles” and has previously studied the algae at the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland.
More algae appear as the ice melts more rapidly, giving them vital water and air and adding red hues to the white ice.
“Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of radiation,” said Di Mauro.
“We are trying to quantify the effect of other phenomena besides the human one on the overheating of the Earth,” said Di Mauro, noting that the presence of hikers and ski lifts could also have an impact on the algae.
Tourists at the glacier lamented the impact of climate change. “Overheating of the planet is a problem, the last thing we needed was algae,” said tourist Marta Durante.
“Unfortunately we are doing irreversible damage. We are already at the point of no return, I think.”