Go Green! Antarctica’s Snow is 'Changing Colour Due to Climate Change'

Go Green! Antarctica’s Snow is 'Changing Colour Due to Climate Change'

"In some place, it would be the beginning of a new ecosystem", Matt Davey, plant and algal physiologist at the Department of Plant Sciences at the Cambridge University, who was involved in the study, told The Guardian.

Snow algae were first described during expeditions to Antarctica in the 1950s and 1960s.

Climate change is turning parts of coastal Antarctica green, according to University of Cambridge scientists.

Davey said: "The snow is multi-coloured in places, with a palette of reds, oranges and greens - it's quite an incredible sight". Temperatures have already increased 1.5ºC compared to pre-industrial levels and this is likely to continue, leading to a wide set of consequences. This large-scale map of the algae will be used to assess the speed at which Antarctica is turning green and maybe providing sustenance to other species.

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.

Each individual algae is microscopic, but when they grow en mass, they stain the snow green.

Large areas of green snow can now be seen along the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula, mostly in warmer areas that have temperatures above zero degrees Celsius in the summer months - which go from November to February. They detected and measured the green snow algae using a combination of satellite data and ground observation.

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"We identified 1,679 separate blooms of green algae on the snow surface, which together covered an area of 1.9 km [0.7 square miles], equating to a carbon sink of around 479 tonnes per year", Davey said in a statement.

They found most of the blooms were on small, low-lying islands that are expected to lose their summer snow under warmer global temperatures.

"As Antarctica warms, we predict the overall mass of snow algae will increase", Researchers have said.

They also found that the majority of algae blooms were within five kilometres (three miles) of a penguin colony, as the birds' excrement is an excellent fertiliser. The blooms the researchers mapped can remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as driving a vehicle a million miles would create.

In the near future, the researchers intend to measure red and orange algae forms on the continent as well, and track their growth to understand how the continent may be transforming.

Reference: "Remote sensing reveals Antarctic green snow algae as important terrestrial carbon sink" by Andrew Gray, Monika Krolikowski, Peter Fretwell, Peter Convey, Lloyd S. Peck, Monika Mendelova, Alison G. Smith and Matthew P. Davey, 20 May 2020, Nature Communications.

Above: Multi-coloured snow algae on Anchorage Island, in Antarctica.

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