On the coast, some snow is not white – it is green. And as small amounts of green snow become visible over the years, it is beginning to spread across the continent due to .
According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature Nature, the vibrant color is caused by microscopic algae blossoming across the snow surface. Using satellite data and work observations, a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey created the first large-scale map of green algae and predicted the future spread of exotic snow.
Green snow appears on the Antarctic coast, growing in “warmer”; areas, where average temperatures reach just above freezing in summer. Although individual algae are microscopic, as they grow in size, green snow can be seen even from space.
For the study, the research team from two summers on the Antarctic Peninsula was assembled with photos from the European Space Agency’s 2nd Space Center taken between 2017 and 2019. In summary, the team is identified over 1,600 separate algal blooms on snow surfaces.
The team found that the distribution of green snow algae is strongly influenced by sea birds and mammals, as their release works extremely well as well as fertilizer. Over 60% of the flowering was found near the penguin colonies, and the rest were found near the nest sites of the birds.
“This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life in Antarctica, and how it can change in the coming years as the climate warms,” said lead author Dr. Matt Davey of the University of Cambridge in a press release.
If bird populations are strongly affected by climate change, as they most likely are, algae could be a major source of nutrients. But the results of the study indicate that green snow is widely spreading globally.
That is to thrive, organisms need an available water supply. Temperatures on the peninsula where green snow was found have increased significantly in recent decades, increasing the amount of water available.
As the planet warms up further and further into Antarctica’s, algae spreads, scientists said. And while some algae will disappear in areas that have lost snow altogether, many more will be available.
“As Antarctica warms, we predict that the overall mass of snow algae will increase, as the spread to higher ground will significantly further eliminate the loss of small algae islands,” said co-lead author Dr. Andrew Gray, of the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh.
It is unclear how the planets are spreading the planet. It plays a key role in the nutrition of cycling and pulling carbon dioxide from the environment through photosynthesis, Davey said, but it darkens the snow, and absorbs more heat from the sun.
The amount of algae the team finds creates a carbon sink that absorbs nearly 500 tons of carbon per year, the equivalent of nearly 875,000 average car trips in the U.K., researchers said.
The amount of algae found is actually a conservative estimate, as the satellite has the ability to pick green algae, losing its red and orange counterparts. “The snow is a lot of color in places, with a palette of red, orange and vegetable – it’s a pretty spectacular sight,” Davey said.