In the summer, parts of Antarctica are turning green as algae bloom on the surface of melted snow.
Snow in Antarctica is turning green and scientists say climate change could be to blame.
According to a study published in Peer-reviewed Nature Communications, microscopic algae bloom on the snow surface slowly making the white and wintry landscape of Antarctica green. Although microscopic, scientists say they are able to see the "green snow" from space when algae bloom en masse.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey created a large-scale map of green snow algae along the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, using a combination of satellite data and observations on the ground over two summers.
Green snow algae, Rothera Point, Antarctica 2018 (Photo: Matt Davey)
The study found that snow-green algae flourished in warmer areas, where average temperatures are above 32 degrees Fahrenheit during the southern hemisphere's summer months, from November to February.
While algae prefer warmer temperatures, scientists believe that rising global temperatures can also be harmful. Low islands with no high ground can lose summer snow due to climate change and, with them, snow algae.
"As Antarctica warms, we predict that the overall mass of algae in the snow will increase, as the expansion to higher areas will significantly overcome the loss of small seaweed spots on the islands," said Dr. Andrew Gray, lead author of the article , and researcher at the University of Cambridge and NERC Field Spectroscopy Facility, Edinburgh.
However, the researchers say that larger algae flowers can be found north of the Antarctic Peninsula and in the South Shetland Islands, where they can spread to higher ground as the snow melts.
The team also found that birds and marine mammals influenced the distribution of algae. More than 60% of the seaweed flowers were found 5 km from a penguin colony. Scientists assume this may be due to their excrement, which acts as a "highly nutritious fertilizer".
During their two summers in Antarctica, researchers found other algae that made the snow red and orange. Although they were unable to measure the different colors, they plan to return and continue their work to include other seaweed flowers.
Pink snow in Ryder Bay, Antarctica 2018 (Photo: Matt Davey)
"This is a significant advance in our understanding of terrestrial life in Antarctica and how it could change in the coming years as the weather warms up," said Dr. Matt Davey, from the Department of Plant Sciences at Cambridge University, who led the project. study.
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