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Climate Change Is Turning Antarctica's Snow Green With Algae

Climate Change Is Turning Antarctica's Snow Green With Algae”

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.

Antarctica's ice is quickly melting as a result of climate change, but that's not the only effect of rising temperatures.

Researchers believe the organisms will expand as global temperatures increase.

Warming temperatures due to climate change are helping the formation and spread of "green snow" and it is becoming so prolific in places that it is even visible from space, according to new research published on Wednesday.

Though each alga is microscopic, when they grow together they turn the snow bright green, which can be seen from space.

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.

Larger green snow algae blooms could help pull carbon dioxide from the air.

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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.

Antarctica conjures images of an unbroken white wilderness, but blooms of algae are giving parts of the frozen continent an increasingly green tinge. While this will not make much of a difference in the planet's carbon budget, Matt explained this to equal to emissions of about 875,000 vehicle journeys in the UK.

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

Dr Andrew Gray, lead author of the paper, and a researcher at the University of Cambridge, said: "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". There are many different types of algae, from the tiny, single-celled species measured in this study, to large leafy species like giant kelp. They bloom when the temperature is warmer than normal, between November and February, the austral summer.

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.

An increase in the blooms could also lead to further snowmelt, he said. The snow algae were less conspicuous in colder and southern regions.

As the climate crisis progresses, patterns of green snow will change. This new study has found that microscopic algae also play an important role in Antarctica's ecosystem and its carbon cycling.



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