In 2005, the rocks on Mount Gongga in China became red. It was as if the Queen of Hearts had ordered someone make it so.
But a recent study from Chinese scientists has found out just why the location, now a tourist attraction for those who want to see the odd phenomenon, is covered with this red mat. No, the rocks were not just painted red.
New Scientist reports researchers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, Hubei, China, found it is simply a new, rock-loving variety of algae gone wild. Guoxiang Liu and his colleagues published their research in PLoS One stating that it is just a "massive" bloom of Trentepohlia jolithus. As the researchers put it "most of the rocks are covered with deep red coloured algal carpets" in the Yajiageng river valley now.
New Scientist explains how and why this algae only seems to have begun thriving in the area recently:
Uniquely, this variety only grows on local rocks. In recent years, large debris flows combined with human activity, such as road construction, have exposed vast swathes of fresh native rock, ripe for the algae to colonise - and the mat has remained.
According to the paper published in the scientific journal earlier this week, the area is now called "Red-Stone-Valley" thanks to the algal bloom. The scientists say global warming could have contributed to the algae's spread as well.