Green Snow Is The Kind Of Snow That We Don’t Want

Green Snow Is The Kind Of Snow That We Don’t Want

Green snow is real. Yes, it exists in the snowiest place on earth, Antarctica. Different from other colors of snow, like white or brown that we usually find out of our windows, this one is what researchers are most worried about. How come?

Well, just like CNET say: no, Antarctica is not turning into one giant margarita with the presence of green snow here. Let alone a giant margarita, it might be turning into a lush rainforest in the future, and the color is a sign we cannot ignore.

Researchers are more worried about it since the green color is found in the surface of melting snow. It indicates that in the future, there is huge possibility that it will spread all around the fifth continent. However, experts say that we can prevent further invasion if we are willing to do so.

So, should we be worried too? Will the color turn into another color? What does it mean? Here in this article, we will talk about the answer for those questions.

Green Snow From Satellite View

Dr. Matt Davey at Lagoon Island, Antarctica by Sarah Vincent
Dr. Matt Davey at Lagoon Island, Antarctica by Sarah Vincent

Before talking further about it, we think it is necessary to know what is green snow. The color green in the green snow comes from bloom of microscopic snow algae. This is a photosynthetic organism which can be found in areas where the temperature is over 0 degrees Celsius.

From that explanation, you should have realized that green snow should have never existed in Antarctica’s icy region. Let alone spreading so big that it can be seen from space by European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite view.

Indeed, in some ‘warmer’ parts of Antarctica, the growth of such microscopic algae is possible. However, those ‘warmer’ parts are so tiny compared to the vast continent. However, the microscopic algae found their way to break through the borders and now invade the icy regions. The only reason is because it is possible.

Ice-free ground in Antarctica covers only 0.18% of Antarctica’s whole area. In addition to that, even the most vegetated region in the continent, where the microscopic algae should be contained, is only 1.34% of this ice-free ground area.

Mathematically, there should only be 0.002412% of Antarctica’s surface covered by the algae. That’s only if the algae cover all the most vegetated region in the continent only, meaning the number should be smaller than that. However, in fact, the appearance of green snow in many parts of Antarctica show that there is something wrong with this.

Of Course, Global Warming

Green Snow by Davey & Gray
Green Snow by Davey & Gray

According to a study conducted by a group of researchers from University of Cambridge and British Antarctic Survey, there are around 1679 snow algae blooms in Antarctica nowadays. Seasonally, it can cover area up to 1.95 km2.

“As Antarctica warms, we predict the overall mass of snow algae will increase, as the spread to higher ground will significantly outweigh the loss of small island patches of algae,” said Andrew Gray of Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, lead author of the study.

Moreover, in some parts, the green snow has even already forming a ‘miniature’ ecosystem. “It’s a community. This could potentially form new habitats. In some place, it would be the beginning of a new ecosystem,” said Matt Davey of Cambridge University, one of the leaders of the study.

Yep, this is one of the proofs of global warming, which is already happening. The warming in Antarctic peninsula has reached more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial era. While the problem is, in the area, there is not any industrial activity.

What happens in Antarctica is the global result of what we have done all this time in other parts of the world. We have changed the world so much that even the coldest region of the planet is losing its coolness gradually.

Penguins Playground

Penguin by Anne Froehlich
Penguin by Anne Froehlich

Talking about the miniature ecosystem in green snow spots, we must also mention about how it is forming playgrounds for penguins in the area. About 60% of green snow spots are ground near penguin colonies, and some others are found near birds’ nesting sites and where seals often come ashore.

Those playgrounds are located under 5 kilometers of the colonies and nests that it can be easily accessed by the animals. “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,” Davey explained in a press release.

Researchers strongly believe that it proves how the algae bloom is influenced by marine nutrients input in addition to warming temperature. The presence of the animals is suggested to supply the algae sufficient nitrogen and phosphates for it to grow better.

In other words, when the animals find such ‘playground’ near their place, they tend to come there and make it grow better with their feces. The penguins and seals are literally contributing to the growth of green snow algae.

Based on calculation, the hotspots contribute to 1.3 × 103 tons of biomass to earth’s atmosphere. It is equivalent to the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere by around 875,000 fossil-fueled cars in the United Kingdom.

Returning Green Snow To White

All this time, we all know Antarctica as the world’s coldest and whitest continent. It is also typically known as the frozen land of ice. However, the findings of the study revealed that terrestrial life is possible, and even growing.

The green snow spots, which can be seen from outer space, is the result of particularly abnormal algae growth in the area. With several factors mentioned above, such as global warming and nutrients provided by animals, the abnormality may become a new normal if we don’t do anything to fix this.

What can we actually do? One simple way is to fight the green with green. Plant trees in other parts of the world to make the temperature in Antarctica cooler. Trees indeed have the ability to solve climate change and global warming.

Researchers have calculated that if we can plant 1.2 trillion trees, the world would be back to its healthiest state. But we don’t need to plant 1580 trees each in one go to make a change. We can start by planting one and take care of existing trees to do it.

Even only if one person plants one tree each year, there will be 7.5 billion newly planted trees each year. Maybe not enough to reverse global warming, but it might be enough for us to buy some time to find better way to solve the problem.



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