Antarctica Is Seeing Green Snow

Algae is thriving as the continent heats up
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2020 6:55 PM CDT
Antarctica's Green Snow Mapped From Space
A penguin on red and green snow in Neko Harbour, Antarctica.   (Wikimedia Commons/Jerzy Strzelecki)

Antarctica is getting slushier and the snow is getting greener, according to scientists using satellite data to map blooms of algae. The BBC reports that a study of the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands found about 1,700 large algae blooms covering a total of nearly 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. Algae has long been observed in the Antarctic, but researchers say its range is expanding due to record temperatures caused by climate change, per the Guardian. The algae has been thriving in conditions just above freezing, which gives them access to liquid water.

Matt Davey, lead author of a study published in the journal Nature Communications, says algae may disappear along with snow from low-lying islands, but expand its range on the mainland. The researchers say the algae is helping absorb carbon dioxide, and, along with bacteria and fungal spores, could be forming new ecosystems. "These are primary producers at the bottom of a food chain. If there are changes in the algae, it obviously has knock-on effects further up the food chain," says Davey. He tells Reuters that with a new satellite map, "we can see whether the blooms will start increasing as the models suggest in the future." (More Antarctica stories.)

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