Scientists at the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey have been researching algae blooming across melting snow on the Antarctic peninsula.
In photos shared by the university team, the typically crisp white landscapes are tinted green by new algae growth, which they believe could create a source of nutrition for other species, their research says.
Though each alga is microscopic, when they grow together they turn the snow bright green, which can be seen from space.
“This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life on Antarctica, and how it might change in the coming years as the climate warms,” Matt Davey, the study’s leader, said. “Snow algae are a key component of the continent’s ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.”
Their findings, published Wednesday in science journal Nature Communications, mark the first large-scale map of peninsular algae growth, which will be used to map its growth progress as Earth continues to warm.
“It’s a community,” Davey told The Guardian. “This could potentially form new habitats. It’s the beginning of a new ecosystem.”
Their work found 1,679 blooms of algae, covering a total area of 1.9 square kilometres, equalling carbon sink — or a natural environment’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — of about 479 tonnes a year. The study says this equals the emissions of around 875,000 car journeys in the U.K.
If the algae continue to grow, it could have a wider positive impact on Earth.
“I think we will get more large blooms in the future,” Andrew Gray, the lead study author, told the publication. “Before we know whether this has a significant impact on carbon budgets or bio-albedo, we need to run the numbers.”