The climate crisis is turning parts of Antarctica green

Climate change may be turning the Antarctic green

"With multiple and often unknown species recorded within patches of green snow algae, and little known about the dispersal mechanisms, life cycles and plasticity of snow algal species, losses from these islands could represent a reduction of terrestrial diversity for the Antarctic Peninsula", they wrote.

If the algae continue to grow, it could have a wider positive impact on Earth.

Ocean scientist Norman Kuring of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center photographed green algae covering snow and ice in Antarctica in February 2013. As the Antarctic Peninsula warms due to rising global temperatures, these islands may lose their summer snow cover and with it their snow algae.

Antarctica conjures images of an unbroken white wilderness, but blooms of algae are giving parts of the frozen continent an increasingly green tinge. Some of the largest splotches of green were found on islands along the west coast of the Antarctica Peninsula, where warming has been most pronounced over the last several decades.

Green snow algae, Rothera Point, Antarctica 2018. However, in terms of mass, the majority of snow algae is found in a small number of larger blooms in the north of the Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands, in areas where they can spread to higher ground as low-lying snow melts. 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.

The scientists were able to identify 1,679 different blooms of green snow algae covering an expanse of 1.9 square kilometres - this denotes a carbon sink of nearly 479 tonnes a year, which is equivalent to emissions from about 875,000 auto journeys.

"This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life on Antarctica, and how it might change in the coming years as the climate warms", Matt Davey, the study's leader, said.

Almost two-thirds of the blooms were on the small, low-lying islands, the researchers noted, but they expect it to spread greatly as temperatures rise.

"This increase is predicted to outweigh biomass lost from small islands, resulting in a net increase in snow algae extent and biomass as the Peninsula warms", they wrote.

However, while an increase in snowmelt could lead to more algae growing, Gray told CNN that the distribution of the organisms is heavily linked to bird populations, whose excrement acts as a fertilizer to accelerate growth.

"There will be more carbon locked up in future just because you need snow to be in a slushier state for algae to bloom", said Evans. Researchers are now planning similar studies on red and orange algae, although that is proving harder to map from space.

"It's a community", Davey told The Guardian. The snow algae were less conspicuous in colder and southern regions.

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