Climate change is turning Antarctica green, study finds
PARIS, May 20: Parts of the Antarctic Peninsula will change colour as "green snow" caused by blooming algae is expected to spread with increases in global temperatures, research showed Wednesday.
Although often considered devoid of plant life, Antarctica is home to several types of algae, which grow on slushy snow and suck carbon dioxide from the air.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey combined satellite imagery with on-the-ground observations to detect the current extent of green algae in the world's most barren continent.
They identified more than 1,600 separate green algae blooms on snow across the peninsula, with a combined surface area of 1.9 square kilometres.
"Even though the numbers are relatively small on a global scale, in Antarctica where you have such a small amount of plant life, that amount of biomass is highly significant," Matt Davey from Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences, told AFP.
"A lot of people think Antarctica is just snow and penguins. In fact when you look around the fringe there is a lot of plant life."
The team calculated that algae on the peninsula currently absorb levels of CO2 equivalent to 875,000 average car journeys.
They also found that the majority of algae blooms were within five kilometres (three miles) of a penguin colony, as the birds' excrement is an excellent fertiliser.
The polar regions are warming far faster than other parts of the planet and the team predicted that low-lying coastal areas of Antarctica would soon be free from algae as they experience snow-free summers.
But that loss will probably be offset by a preponderance of large algae blooms as temperatures rise and snow at higher altitudes softens. -AFP