The snow in the Antarctic peninsula is turning green due to the blooming algae which are likely to spread as temperatures increase due to climate change, researchers have said. In some parts, the microscopic organisms have grown so dense that they turn the snow bright green and can even be seen from space, a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications said.
Scientists have also created the first large-scale map of the microscopic algae using data collected over two years by the European Space Agency's Sentinel 2 satellite, along with on-the-ground observations, a research team from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey.
This new mapping found 1,679 separate algal blooms, a key component in Antarctica's ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The large scale map will be used to assess the speed at which the continent is turning green due to climate change.
Researchers believe the microorganisms will expand as global temperatures increase due to climate change. They can also create a potential source of nutrition for other species.
"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.
"The algal blooms in Antarctica are equivalent to about the amount of carbon that's being omitted by 875,000 average UK petrol car journeys. That seems a lot but in terms of the global carbon budget, it's insignificant," Davey added.
Davey added that while the algal blooms take up carbon from the atmosphere, it won't make any "serious dent" in the amount of carbon dioxide put in the atmosphere at present.
Dr Andrew Gray, lead author of the paper, and a researcher at the University of Cambridge said that the blooms could also lead to further snowmelt.
"It's very dark -- a green snow algal bloom will reflect about 45 per cent of light hitting it whereas fresh snow will reflect about 80% of the light hitting it, so it will increase the rate of snowmelt in a localized area," he told CNN.