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In Summer, Antarctic Snow Turns Green with Algae

Dr. Matt Davey sampling snow algae at Lagoon Island, Antarctica. Credit: Sarah Vincent Green snow algae are some of Antarctica’s smallest living organisms, delicate enough to examine by microscope. But when they grow together in clumps, they’re visible from space—a rich, green stain on the surface of the white snow.

Now, scientists are using satellite images to determine how much algae is growing in Antarctica. One of these first-ever mapping projects was published this week in the journal Nature Communications .

It identified a large network of algal blooms, cropping up each summer across the peninsula of Antarctica and the nearby islands that dot the Southern Ocean. The researchers counted a total of 1,679 individual blooms, with the largest sometimes covering hundreds of square meters. Advertisement These blooms likely play an important role in the coastal ecosystem. Algae are typically a fundamental part of coastal food webs and help to sustain other larger forms of life.

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The study suggests they may also be a small but notable part of the Antarctic carbon cycle, sucking up several hundred tons of carbon each summer (although much of this carbon may be released again once the algae die or are eaten).

Scientists already knew that snow […]

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