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Antarctica is being colonized by a mysterious seaweed that has turned snow into blood red.
Experts have shared these remarkable images of “watermelon snow” near an old British research station.
The toxic seaweed Chlamydomonas nivalis, lover of the cold, is the snow equivalent of the regular algae found in the rivers, but it has spores that produce a unique red pigment that acts as a natural sunscreen.
Microscopic organisms have been found in snowfields throughout the world for thousands of years, remaining dormant in the snow during winter.
When the snow melts in the summer, the spores are exposed to sunlight and begin to grow.
The images were taken at the former British Faraday station, which was sold to Ukraine in 1996.
It is now known as Vernadsky Station and the Ukrainian Ministry of Science and Education revealed the blood-coloured snow.
The research team, based on the island of Galindez, part of the Argentine islands, said: “That snow contributes to climate change, because raspberry red snow reflects less sunlight and melts faster.
“As a result, more and more bright algae are formed in the snow.”
The red algae pigment helps capture sunlight to further heat the snow, sometimes causing a “algal bloom” that stains the snow and nearby currents red.
Unicellular organisms can also appear in different colors, including green and, more rarely, orange.
According to reports, they emit a slight watermelon smell, but scientists don’t know why.
Dr. Stefanie Lutz, a geobiologist at the GFZ Geosciences Research Center in Germany, warned that poorly understood algae could cause snow to reflect 13% less sunlight.
She said in a study published in Nature Communications that “little is known about the diversity or function of snowy algae, nor its overall effect on albedo (reflectivity) and, therefore, on the melting of glaciers.
” It is despite the fact that the blooms of colored snow algae are known from Aristotle, and that they dominate primary production in the snow and ice fields.
“We have recently shown that snowy algae are critical players in the habitats of the glacial surface and the dominant biomass immediately after the beginning of the fusion.
“Snow algae are prolific colonizers and primary producers that can form extensive flowers in spring and summer.”
He added: “Our data shows that the overall decrease in snow albedo by blooming red pigmented algae blooms during a whole melting season may be 13%, which probably leads to earlier exposure of dirty ice with an even lower surface albedo culminating in an additional increase in melt rates.
“Our work paves the way for a universal model of algae-albedo interaction and a quantification of the additional melt caused by algal blooms that will be included in futures climate models. “