Meteorological Anomaly: The Curious Case of the Pink Snow

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Ever heard of pink snow? Well, this happened back in 2009 in one of Philly’s neighbourhoods!

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Blooms Of Snow Algae On Gunsight Mountain, Montana . Photo: Summitpost

Less than eight hours before the arrival of 2010, Hilltown police began what was likely their strangest investigation of 2009. On Revere Drive, just off of Chalfont Road, there was pink snow everywhere on the roofs, the grass and the nearby woods. Did this strange substance have fallen from a plane? Is it blood? It  had no odor or oily texture!

What is the cause of this pink snow?

As the police continued to probe the mystery of the pink snow, a resident came out with a solution: this snow is called ‘watermelon snow’ and is produced by an algae (chlamydomonas nivalis, or snow algae). The red or pink color is due to a bright red carotenoid pigment. The snow algae, like all algae, are green at heart; the red comes from the secondary pigment. Usually in a dormant stage in winter, at times they “wake up” germinate, and squirm up through the ice crystals toward the sunlight, coloring the snow. Here an example of red snow in Karaghanda, Kazakhstan from August 2013.

Watermelon snow has puzzled mountain climbers, explorers, and naturalists for thousands of years. Well, on this New Year’s Eve, at least for a short time, it had a Hilltown police officer and the residents of Revere Drive scratching their heads as well.

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