Alaska’s rivers are turning orange. This is why.

Normally, the rivers that run through Alaska are a pristine blue. But lately, there have been some that look rusty, even orange in color.

It’s not pollution (well, at least not from any man-made source). The discoloration comes from permafrost that is finally melting, which is releasing metals (including iron, zinc, copper, nickel and lead) into rivers.

A new study in the journal. Communications: Earth and Environmentdiscovers that climate change has been releasing these metals into the water for the past 10 years, resulting in lower pH levels and higher sulfates.

“Arctic soils contain large amounts of organic carbon, nutrients, mercury and other metals, many of which are stored in perennially frozen soils or permafrost,” the report reads. “Warming and increased snowfall are causing widespread permafrost thaw, which alters and generates new hydrological flow pathways, may alter soil and bedrock erosion patterns, and mobilizes thawed chemical components for transport from soils.” to the streams and rivers.”

The additional chemicals in the water have been linked to “dramatic declines” in the number of fish in streams and could have “considerable implications” for the drinking water supply in rural Alaska. Vegetation near streams is also blackened or dead.

The investigation into the bleaching began seven years ago and researchers say they will continue to monitor the situation, focusing on the impact on the environment and the state’s residents, as well as searching for the location of additional sources of metals and minerals that could increase pollution. .

Climate warming is also causing higher concentrations of metals in rivers in other parts of the world. Colorado has seen a surge over the past 30 years, and rivers from the equator to the Alps have seen similar impacts.

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