Climate Change Is Turning Antarctica's Snow Green

Climate change may be turning the Antarctic green

Dr Matt Davey in the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences, who led the study, said the algae could capture carbon dioxide, which could be a boost in the battle against climate change.

Dr. Matt Davey sampling snow algae at Lagoon Island, Antarctica.

But that loss will probably be offset by a preponderance of large algae blooms as temperatures rise and snow at higher altitudes softens.

Experts from the University of Cambridge suggest that climate change will turn the coast of Antarctica green, resulting in blooms of algae so thick and strong they could be seen from space.

Mosses and lichens are considered the dominant photosynthetic organisms in Antarctica - but the new mapping found 1,679 separate algal blooms that are a key component in the continent's ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. "With the available area for plant colonization on the Peninsula likely to increase by up to threefold due to this warming, understanding how snow algae fit into Antarctica's biosphere and their probable response to warming is critical to understanding the overall impact of climate change on Antarctica's vegetation", the study reads.

Warming temperatures could create more "habitable" environments for the algae, which need wet snow to grow in, researchers told CNN.


The research also shows that green snow occurs in areas where wildlife live because animal poop fertilizes algae. They grow in "warmer" areas, where average temperatures are just above zero degrees Celsius during the austral summer - the Southern Hemisphere's summer months of November to February. The researchers used satellite images from the European Space Agency taken between 2017 and 2019, and combined those with observations they made themselves in a trip to Antarctica's Ryder Bay, Adelaide Island, the Fildes Peninsula, and King George Island. Nearly two-thirds of the algal blooms were found on small islands around the peninsula.

The blooms of the "green snow" algae are usually found on the coastline of the continent, especially near the islands on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

"As Antarctica continues to warm on small low-lying islands, at some point you will stop getting snow coverings on those in the summer", said Andrew Gray, lead author and researcher at the University of Cambridge and NERC Field Spectroscopy Facility, Edinburgh.

They're also influenced by marine birds and mammals, whose natural fertilizer acts as an accelerant. A carbon sink is a reservoir that absorbs more carbon than it releases.

In the future, the team will focus on measuring red and orange algae in order to determine how their presence might be affecting the heat-reflecting albedo quality of the snow.

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