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Climate Change is turning Antarctica Green, HERE IS HOW

Climate Change is turning Antarctica Green, HERE IS HOW

Tucked away in the Southern Hemisphere is the fifth largest and the least populated continent on the face of the planet, Antarctica. It is known to be the coldest, windiest and driest place on Earth, with the highest average elevation of all continents. A majority of Antarctica is a polar desert, with annual precipitation of 200mm along the coast and far less inland. Despite the lack of rainfall, the continent boasts of 80% of Earth’s fresh water reserves. While human population in the area is very low, Antarctica is also home to animals such as penguins, seals, nematodes, etc., and plants like algae, bacteria, fungi, plants to name a few.

Surrounded by the Southern Ocean and home to the South pole, the coldest continent has boasted of several glacier reserves for a long time, regularly experiencing sub-zero temperatures. Lately, however, the area has become exposed to the perils of global warming. As a result of this, vegetation has started appearing on the surface, giving the pristine white of the surface a strangely colourful visual. In order to accurately map the surface of the continent, experts and scientists have worked in tandem for over six years with remote sending technology – an effective combination of ground observation and satellite data, and published their observations in the Nature Communications journal. Their findings explore how the melting snow has created the perfect slushy conditions in the peninsula that allow these single-cell life-forms to thrive, making the surface of the Antarctic floor appear green.

These ‘snow algae’ are sometimes also known as ‘watermelon snow’, because they can produce shades of pink, red or green. The cause is a species of green algae that sometimes contains a secondary red pigment. Unlike other freshwater algae, it is Cryophilic, which means that it thrives in near-freezing conditions.

Much like the other plants even algae use photosynthesis to grow. The scientists were able to identify 1,679 different blooms of green snow algae covering an expanse of 1.9 square kilometers — this denotes a carbon sink of almost 479 tons a year, which is equivalent to emissions from about 875,000 car journeys. Experts concur that with increased temperatures and effects of global warming felt worldwide, algae blooms in Antarctica will expand their range in the future making the white continent even greener. Currently, certain regions of Antarctica have such dense algae concentrations that the bright green-appearing snow can be viewed even from space.

These algae blooms are more heavily concentrated in the Coastal regions. They are especially found near the islands on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. They bloom when the temperature is warmer than normal, sometime between November and February, the austral summer. This peninsula is the part of Antarctica that has experienced the most rapid warming in the latter part of the century. The algae blooms are also heavily influenced by the birds and animals prevalent in the area. The excreta provided by marine birds and mammals acts as a natural fertilizer for the algae to grow. Another possible reason for green cover over Antarctica is the growth of moss, a known consequence of global warming. Most parts of Antarctica is covered in ice but the peninsula parts are instead blanketed in moss. Every year fresh layers are added over the top of previous season’s growth.

If these patterns persist, the coldest continent will be a much greener place in the future. This could mean a very differently altered ecological landscape for the continent, much like that of the Arctic over the years. The findings have yet been inconclusive to report what this might mean for the planet in the future. However, at present it provides an opportunity for extensive research and discovery in the domain.

About The Author

Seerat Kaur

Seerat Kaur has completed her graduation and post graduation in Economics and Supply Chain and Logistics Management from the University of Warwick, UK. As a part of her degree, she has completed two dissertations which required primary data collection as well as analysis. At Envecologic, she primarily works in research and sustainability partnerships. In the duration of her work, she worked closely in launching the State of Delhi’s Air report, the biggest air pollution survey ever done in the capital.She’s a national level basketball player and loves swimming. Her interests include reading, travelling, sports and music.

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