Climate change turning Antarctica snow greenDate: 21 May 2020 Tags: Climate Change
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.
While the presence of algae in Antarctica was noted by long-ago expeditions, such as the one undertaken by British explorer Ernest Shackleton, its full extent was unknown.
Using data collected over two years by the European Space Agency's Sentinel 2 satellite, together with on-the-ground observations, a research team has created the first map of the algae blooms on the Antarctic Peninsula coast.
The result is the first large-scale algae map of the peninsular, which will be used as a baseline to assess the speed at which the white continent is turning green due to the climate crisis and potentially offering sustenance to other species.
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.
In some areas, the single-cell life-forms are so dense they turn the snow bright green and can be seen from space.
Almost two-thirds of the green algal blooms were found on small, low-lying islands around the peninsula, which has experienced some of the most intense heating in the world, with new temperature records being set this summer.
Green is not the only splash of colour in Antarctica. Researchers are now planning similar studies on red and orange algae, although that is proving harder to map from space.