Yosemite National Park's Highest Peaks Covered in Pink 'Watermelon Snow'

An intriguing phenomenon has been spotted at some higher elevations in Yosemite National Park.

The park posted two images of the so-called "watermelon snow" on its Facebook page, explaining that some snow which persists through the summer at altitudes higher than 9,500 feet sometimes has a slightly reddish or pink tint.

"It may be August, but there is still plenty of snow and ice above 9,500 feet!" the Facebook post read. "If you look closely in the first image you may notice a slight reddish coloration to the snow. The second image is a close up example of the coloration. Ever see this and wonder what it is?"

"Some snow, typically found at high elevations—9,500 feet plus—where snow persists even through the summer months, can appear pink or red."

According to the park, the unusual color is the result of a type of algae known as Chlamydomonas nivalis—which is found in snow fields in alpine and polar regions around the world, according to a study published in the journal FEMS Microbiology Ecology.

"This algae is typically green but contains a special red pigment called a carotenoid that acts as a protective barrier, shielding the algae's chlorophyll," the Facebook post read. "Since chlorophyll is necessary for its survival, it uses this natural type of sunscreen to protect itself from too much heat and damaging ultraviolet radiation. The pigment dyes the surrounding area a darker color, giving the effect of a pink or red snow field, and allows the snow to heat up faster and melt more quickly.

C. nivalis is the most abundant type of algae found in snow, according to a paper published in the European Journal of Phycology. It is a particularly hardy organism that is able to adapt to extreme environments where it experiences large swings in temperature, intense sunlight and low nutrient availability among other factors.

Intriguingly, the watermelon snow turns a deeper hue of red if you step on it and compress it, SFGate reported. Furthermore, not only does the reddish snow have a similar color to watermelon, but it also exhibits a somewhat sweet smell which partially resembles that of the real fruit, Smithsonian Mag reported.

Despite this, it's probably not a good idea to try and taste it, however tempting it might be, because it could potentially be contaminated with bacteria or toxic algae.

"Although it probably isn't harmful to eat, we certainly don't recommend it," Scott Gediman, public affairs officer for Yosemite National Park, told TODAY.

watermelon snow
Watermelon snow in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park's Highest Peaks Covered in Pink 'Watermelon Snow' | Tech & Science
{{label}}
{{title}}
EDITOR'S PICK