Antarctica, The Coldest Place On Earth, Is Turning Green

Dhir Acharya - Aug 03, 2020


Antarctica, The Coldest Place On Earth, Is Turning Green

Antarctica is affected by climate change and the impacts are more and more visible. The white continent is turning green, what does that mean?

As of now, it’s hard to not believe in climate change as it has been leaving visible effects on the environment, including the farthest place on Earth.

Global warming is when the average surface temperature of our planet increases due to greenhouse gases collecting in the atmosphere, which traps the heat from the Sun. It can be good to have a certain amount of greenhouse gases as it creates a habitable environment for humans as well as animals. However, too much greenhouse gases resulting from burning fossil fuel causes imbalances that are very bad for the Earth.

The green snow algae are growing in the continent
The green snow algae are growing in the continent

Since the industrial age began, there have been more and more extreme weather conditions, the extinction of species, and the loss of complex ecosystems. All of these threaten the health and survival of mankind.

The changes are probably the most obvious in Antarctica, where the shifts in the landscape have raised eyebrows in the science community. Snow algae is growing wider, turning the white snow into a green color. The algae might have an impact on the entire ecosystem of this continent.

Over the last 50 years, Antarctica has experienced a 3-degree increase in its average temperature. While the rise may not sound dramatic, this means the rate across the planet could be five times this number. The most heavily affected part of the continent is the Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula has a 1300-kilometer string of volcanoes and mountains, forming the northernmost part of Antarctica’s mainland.

Antarctica is turning green
Antarctica is turning green

This land is heating up at one of the highest speeds on the continent as well as the world, which is why scientists have chosen this place to study climate change. Just in 2020, the Peninsula had one of the warmest days ever recorded on the continent with over 20.75 degrees C.

In terms of the influences, the Ronne Flichner ice shelf, which is as about the size of Spain, is currently melting fast. Since the 50s, Antarctica has lost around 25,000 square kilometers of the ice shelf. This also leads to rising sea levels, impacts on marine life and the animals relying on the ecosystem of the continent. Green snow algae is one of the products of higher temperatures.

In a recent study, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge observed the growth of green snow algae on the continent over two summers. They found that the algae have turned larges areas of the Peninsula green, including the western coast and the neighboring islands.

Capture Compressed 2

Not just the algae, the study also looked into the effect of climate change on life in Antarctica.

“We identified 1679 separate blooms of green algae on the snow surface, which together covered an area of 1.9 km2, equating to a carbon sink of around 479 tonnes per year. Put into context, this is the same amount of carbon emitted by about 875,000 average gasoline car journeys in the UK.”

Nevertheless, their system picked up only the green algae while missing the orange and red counterparts.

The algae develop a lot around penguin nests
The algae develop a lot around penguin nests

On Antarctica, there are about 46 species of birds, which flourish on the Peninsula in their breeding seasons, and may also contribute to the growth of the green algae. The researchers suspect that the waste from local wildlife is fertilizing the algae. The blooms largely took place within 40 meters of the sea while two-thirds took place within 5 kilometers of a penguin colony. All of the blooms seem to be around nesting sites.

Algae is the base of the food chain of the ocean. They take in and eliminate CO2 through photosynthesis. The blooms like those in Antarctica are often triggered by a combination of nutrients and sunlight that creates fertile conditions. In the Southern Ocean, when there’s a certain density of iron, there will likely be algae blooms.

So, more algae growing in Antarctica means more carbon sequestration. But many algal fields may disappear if the snow lying under them melts completely. Meanwhile, the increasing temperature will boost the growth of algae farther to the south.

>>> This Fungus From A Nuclear Power Plant Can Protects Astronauts On Mars

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