Climate change leading to an increase of green snow in Antarctica

Climate change may be turning the Antarctic green

"We now have a baseline of where the algal blooms are and we can see whether the blooms will start increasing as the models suggest in the future", Matt Davey of the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences told Reuters.

Ocean scientist Norman Kuring of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center photographed green algae covering snow and ice in Antarctica in February 2013. As the planet warms, the ice in Antarctica is slowly melting, creating a slushy environment which is the flawless environment for this algae to thrive.

Parts of the Antarctic Peninsula will change colour as "green snow" caused by blooming algae is expected to spread with increases in global temperatures, research showed Wednesday.

Although often considered devoid of plant life, Antarctica is home to several types of algae, which grow on slushy snow and suck carbon dioxide from the air.

But, scientists are hopeful that this impact of global warming and climate change could, in fact, potentially create a new source of nutrition for other species.

While more algae means more Carbon dioxide is absorbed, the plants could have a small but adverse impact on local albedo - how much of the Sun's heat is reflected back from Earth's surface.

Satellite data gathered between 2017 and 2019, combined with on-the-ground measurements over two summers in Antarctica, allowed scientists to map the microscopic algae as they bloomed across the snow of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Individual organisms are microscopic, but the vast growth and algae clusters turn visibly green.

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Among them, and one of the most visible ones has been the so-called green-snow.

A variety of researchers have reported growing algae in the "warmer areas" of the continent, including King George Island, Ryder Bay, Fildes Peninsula and Adelaide Island.

The BBC reports that a study of the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands found about 1,700 large algae blooms covering a total of almost 1 square mile-though the true total is probably higher, since the Sentinel-2 satellite's cameras could only detect green algae, not red or orange.

Nearly two thirds of the green algal blooms were on small, low-lying islands with no high ground.

Scientists also found the distribution of green snow to be influenced by marine birds and mammals, whose excrement acts as "a highly nutritious natural fertiliser" for the algae, allowing it to thrive.

However, researchers found the algae will likely appear in larger blooms further north, with expansion over a larger landmass close to bird colonies.

"As Antarctica warms, we predict the overall mass of snow algae will increase, as the spread to higher ground will significantly outweigh the loss of small island patches of algae", said Cambridge researcher Andrew Gray, lead author of the new paper. As the peninsula heats up, some of those islands may lose their summer snow, and with it, their snow algae.

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