Friday, 05 June, 2020


Climate Change Is Turning Parts of Antarctica Green, But It's Not Grass

Green Snow in Antarctica Dr. Matt Davey sampling snow algae at Lagoon Island Antarctica. Credit Sarah Vincent
Kristine Garrett | 22 May, 2020, 08:55

"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.

The researchers intend on conducting further studies into other red and orange algae in Antarctica in order to assess how much carbon is held by snow algae across the continent.

"We identified 1,679 separate blooms of green algae on the snow surface, which together covered an area of 1.9 km [0.7 square miles], equating to a carbon sink of around 479 tonnes per year", Davey said in a statement.

Antarctica is the world's southernmost continent, typically known as a frozen land of snow and ice.

Nearly two-thirds of the inexperienced algal blooms had been discovered on small, low-lying islands across the north of the peninsula, which has skilled some of probably the most intense heating on this planet, with new temperature data being set this summer time.

"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. Because algal blooms act as a carbon sink, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, understanding its response to climate change is important.

"A lot of people think Antarctica is just snow and penguins".

The blooms of the "green snow" algae are usually found on the coastline of the continent, especially near the islands on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Put into context this is the same amount of carbon emitted by about 875,000 average petrol vehicle journeys in the UK.

The research also found that marine birds and mammals also had an impact on algae growth, with more than 60 percent of algae blooms found within 5km of a penguin colony.

"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.

As it gets warmer, algae spores are germinating on the surface of Antarctica's snow.

The team however said the reduced albedo is unlikely to impact Antarctica's climate on any meaningful scale.

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

The team also estimated that these blooms, which act as a carbon sink, remove 479 tonnes of atmospheric CO2 per year - equivalent to the emission of 486 planes traveling between NY and London.

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