Global warming is causing parts of Antarctica to turn green

Katie Ramirez
May 22, 2020

In photos shared by the university team, the typically crisp white landscapes are tinted green by new algae growth, which they believe could create a source of nutrition for other species, their research says.

Biologists from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey spent six years detecting and measuring the inexperienced snow algae utilizing a mixture of satellite tv for pc information and floor remark. The study is published today (May 20, 2020) in the journal Nature Communications.

"We now have a baseline of where the algal blooms are and we can see whether the blooms will start increasing as the models suggest in the future", Matt Davey of the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences told Reuters.

The team found that the green blooms are mostly occurring on snow around the Antarctic coastline, particularly on islands along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is the part of Antarctica that experienced the most rapid warming in the latter part of the last century. Over 60 per cent of the blooms they mapped were found within three miles of penguin colonies, and blooms were also often observed near where birds nest and seals hang out on the shore.

"We identified 1679 separate blooms of green algae on the snow surface, which together covered an area of 1.9 km2, equating to a carbon sink of around 479 tonnes per year". The study says this equals the emissions of around 875,000 auto journeys in the United Kingdom. Nearly two thirds of the green snow the scientists found was on smaller, low-lying islands. In terms of mass though, the majority of the algae is found in larger blooms where they can spread to higher ground as low-lying snow melts.

"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.

"It does take up carbon from the atmosphere but it won't make any serious dent in the amount of carbon dioxide being put in the atmosphere at the moment". There are many different types of algae, from the tiny, single-celled species measured in this study, to large leafy species like giant kelp.

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He told CNN that rising temperatures would create more "habitable" environments for the algae.

Above: Researcher Andrew Gray geo-tagging snow algae blooming on Anchorage Island, near Davis Station, Antarctica in 2018.

An increase in the blooms could also lead to further snow melt, he said.

Antarctica is a polar continent, but it's not just a vast land of ice and snow.

The Antarctic Peninsula is the part of the region that has experienced the most rapid warming in the latter part of the last century, researchers say.

Scientists have beforehand noticed a rise in inexperienced lichen and moss, however these develop extraordinarily slowly in contrast with algae. "It's the beginning of a new ecosystem". As the planet warms, the ice in Antarctica is slowly melting, creating a slushy environment which is the ideal environment for this algae to thrive.

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