Snow is turning green in Antarctica and that has positive and negative implications

In the Antarctic Peninsula, the snow white is being replaced by the green of the blooming algae, which are beginning to spread and develop more and more as temperatures rise due to climate change.

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey collected and analyzed satellite data, collected between the summer of 2017 and the summer of 2019, by the European Space Agency. With this information, scientists created the first large-scale map where they located the areas where microscopic algae are superimposing themselves on snow.

Global warming may create environments more “favorable” to the development of algae, which need moist snow to grow, the researchers said. CNN. These organisms are seen along the entire Antarctic coast, but are present in greater numbers in the “hottest” places, where average temperatures are above zero degrees Celsius during the southern hemisphere's summer months, from November to February.

Researchers stress that the Antarctic Peninsula was the region that most felt the increase in global warming in the last years of the last century. Earlier this year, in February, the continent experienced much higher temperatures than usual, due to a heat wave that lasted nine days.

Green algae that cover vast areas of snow are microscopic in size when analyzed individually, but when these organisms reproduce in large quantities they are able to cover snow and can even be seen from space, the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Nature, this Wednesday, 20th.

Scientists have identified that the algae cover an area of ​​1.9 square kilometers, which is equivalent to a carbon sink of about 479 tonnes per year.

“As Antarctica warms up, we expect the permanence of these algae to increase, as their spread to higher ground will increase significantly,” said Andrew Gray, author of the article and a researcher at the University of Cambridge, in a press release.

The growth of this species of algae is also linked to bird populations in the region, whose droppings are fertilizers that accelerate their growth. But as bird populations, especially penguins, also suffer from warmer temperatures, “snow algae can lose sources of nutrients to grow,” said Gray.

In addition, the permanence of algae can lead to snow melting. “Snow with algae will reflect only 45% of the sun's rays that reach the surface, while the snow reflects about 80% of the light”, explains the researcher, warning that the fact that the light is not reflected makes this area more exposed to the sun's rays, melting the snow faster.

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