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Why is Antarctica turning green? Reasons and Effects

It has been seen that in coastal Antarctica some part of the snow is turning green. In fact, a small amount of green snow is visible for years. But it is now spreading across the continent. What is the reason, why is Antarctica turning green? What will happen if whole Antarctica snow will melt? Let us find out and study it in detail.
May 22, 2020 16:13 IST
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Why is Antarctica turning green?
Why is Antarctica turning green?

Parts of Antarctica are changing green and therefore the reason behind is global climate change. So we can say that Antarctica is getting some colour due to climate change.

The University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey scientists have been researching on algae blooming across melting snow on the Antarctic Peninsula. White typically landscape is turning green or we can say that ice looks green due to new algae growth and according to the researchers they will create a source of nutrition for other species.

As we know that algae are microscopic but when they grow together they turn snow bright green and this can be seen from space.

Matt Davey, the study leader said that "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". He further told that “Snow Algae is an important component of the power of the continent to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis process.”

A study was published in the science journal Nature Communications which marks that scientists have created a first large-scale map of microscopic algae growth on the Antarctic Peninsula and it can be used to map the progress of growth as Earth continues to warm.

According to Davey "It is a community". "This could potentially form new habitats. It is the beginning of a new ecosystem."

So now we understood that Antarctica is turning green due to microscopic algae and is a result of climate change.

About Antarctica

The continental area of Antarctica is ice-free ground that makes up only around 0.18% and the most vegetated region of the Antarctic Peninsula is only around 1.34% of the exposed ground is vegetated. The team of British behind the research believe that these blooms in future will expand their range due to global warming because it is creating the conditions that are required to survive them.

On the coastline of the continent, algae the blooms of the "green snow" are found especially near the islands on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. They bloom when the temperature is warmer than normal may be between November and February, the austral summer. It has also been seen that algae are also influenced by marine birds and mammals, as their excreta provide natural fertilizer to grow.

Now let us see how much area is covered in the Research

Researchers work found 1,679 blooms of algae, covering a total area of 1.9 square kilometres which is equal to the carbon sink or the ability of the natural environment to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which is about 479 tonnes a year. The study says that this is equal to the emissions of around 875,000 car journeys in the U.K.

Almost two-thirds of the green algae blooms were found on small, low lying islands around the Antarctic Peninsula and have experienced some of the most intense heating in the world, with new temperature records being set this summer. Let us tell you that snow algae are less conspicuous in colder, southern regions. Effect of global warming has been seen more in these peninsular areas.

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Another reason is the growth of Moss

Another reason behind Antarctica is growing green is the growth of moss. Global warming has increased the growth of moss at sites across the Antarctic Peninsula. Most parts of Antarctica is covered with ice but peninsula parts are instead blanketed in moss. Every year moss grows more over the top of the previous season's growth.

A study was published in June 2017 in Current Biology: Widespread Biological Response to Rapid Warming on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Generally, mosses grow very slow and at the end of the growing season in colder Polar Regions they accumulated rather than decompose. It has been seen that about 50 years ago on an average the two species that dominate the moss banks on the peninsula grew one millimetre or less a year but after that, the growth of mosses has averaged three or more millimetres a year.

Accumulation of carbon isotope is an indication of more photosynthetic activity and microbial activity also increased. In the study, researchers told that they have isolated moss-bank cores dating back 150 years from three sites across the peninsula. They found that since 1950 the growth of moss and accumulation has increased markedly at all sites. This is probably due to global warming which is associated with climate change. And this type of continuous warming triggers large scale-changes to Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems.

What is moss?

Moss is a flowerless, spore-producing plant. They produce spores in small capsules instead of seeds. They don't grow flowers, wood or true roots. All species of moss have rhizoids rather than roots. They are a phylum of non-vascular plants.

What are Algae?

Algae are a large and diverse group of aquatic organisms that can photosynthesise. Examples seaweeds like kelp or phytoplankton, pond scum or algal blooms in lakes. These organisms are not necessarily closely related. Certain features can unite them but are different from the major group of photosynthetic organisms like the lend plants.

- Algae are not differentiated in the way that plants are like they do not have true roots, stems and leaves. Even they don’t have a vascular system like plants to circulate water and nutrients throughout their bodies.

- According to the 2014 article that was published in the journal Current Biology, several algae are unicellular. They also occur in various forms and sizes. They can exist as single, microscopic cells and may even be macroscopic and multicellular, survive in colonies or combat a leafy appearance like seaweeds like giant kelp. Algae are found in both freshwater and saltwater.

Now let us study about Climate Change

Climate change is an average condition like temperature and rainfall in a region over a long period of time. Temperature becomes warm and changes in precipitation and some other effects of Earth's warming are:

- Sea level rises

- Shrinking of mountain glaciers

- Melting of ice at a faster rate than usual Greenland as seen in Antarctica and the Arctic.

- Also time of flower and plant blooming changes. In fact, scientists have seen that the average temperature of the Earth has been increasing much more quickly than they would expect over the past 150 years.

So we can say that climate change is a change in the weather pattern and related changes are seen in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets that are occurring over time scales of decades or longer.

So, now you may have come to know that due to climate change the snow in Antarctica is turning green.

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