Climate change turns Antarctica’s snow green

“I’m in Antarctica and I’m studying the snow algae.”

Warming temperatures are helping the formation and spread of “green snow” in the home of penguins.

Why? Blooming algae… are giving parts of the frozen continent an increasingly green tinge.

The phenomenon is becoming so widespread that it is even visible from space.

That’s according to new research carried out by [Dr Matt Davey at] the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey.

"Look over here. You can see there’s patches of green and hopefully some patches of red, if the light conditions permit it."

Using data collected over two years by satellite and on-the-ground observations, the research team created the first map of the algae blooms on the Antarctic Peninsula coast.

The new mapping found 1,679 separate algal blooms - a key component in the continent’s ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"In terms of the amount of carbon that is required to actually make these blooms in Antarctica, it’s equivalent to about the amount of carbon that's being emitted by 875,000 average UK petrol car journeys. So, it seems a lot but in terms of the global carbon budget, it's insignificant. It is taking up carbon from the atmosphere but it won't make any serious dent in the amount of carbon dioxide being put in the atmosphere at the moment."

Antarctica experienced its warmest day ever recorded in February, with the mercury rising to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

The impact of climate change on the spread of snow algae is unclear, but it is found mainly on the islands off Antarctica’s western coastline where warming has been most extreme.

"Snow algae blooms obviously they rely on slushy snow to actually bloom, so they need liquid water to actually reproduce and divide and bloom. So, if the climate gets too warm and that snow actually becomes very slushy and melts very fast you are losing the habitat for that snow algae to actually bloom in the first place. So, you are wiping out a complete ecosystem in potentially one year."

Green is not the only splash of colour in Antarctica. Researchers are now planning similar studies on red and orange algae.