Global warming is causing parts of Antarctica to turn green

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"We now have a baseline of where the algal blooms are and we can see whether the blooms will start increasing as the models suggest in the future", Matt Davey of the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences told Reuters.

As bird - particularly penguin - populations are affected by warming temperatures, "the snow algae could lose sources of nutrients to grow", he said.

But that loss will probably be offset by a preponderance of large algae blooms as temperatures rise and snow at higher altitudes softens.

Global warming is causing parts of Antarctica to turn green, as scientists reveal blooms of algae are forming near a penguin colony. Snow in coastal Antarctica is literally turning the colour green.

The researchers created a map of the algae comprised of satellite data and on-the-ground observations to come up with their findings. They grow in "warmer" areas, where average temperatures are just above zero degrees Celsius during the austral summer - the Southern Hemisphere's summer months of November to February.

The scientists were able to identify 1,679 different blooms of green snow algae covering an expanse of 1.9 square kilometres - this denotes a carbon sink of nearly 479 tonnes a year, which is equivalent to emissions from about 875,000 vehicle journeys.

The blooms of the "green snow" algae are usually found on the coastline of the continent, especially near the islands on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

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Nearly two thirds of the algal blooms were found on low-lying islands and the researchers predict that rising temperatures may see such islands become covered in algae.

However, while an increase in snowmelt could lead to more algae growing, Gray told CNN that the distribution of the organisms is heavily linked to bird populations, whose excrement acts as a fertilizer to accelerate growth.

"As Antarctica continues to warm on small low-lying islands, at some point you will stop getting snow coverings on those in the summer", said Andrew Gray, lead author and researcher at the University of Cambridge and NERC Field Spectroscopy Facility, Edinburgh.

Describing the algae map as a missing piece of the carbon cycle jigsaw in the Antarctic, Matt Davey, one of the scientists on the team said, "It's a community".

Photosynthesis is the process in which plants and algae generate their own energy, using sunlight to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen. The scientists also plan to measure red and orange algae to calculate the effect of the presence of these colourful forms on the heat-reflecting albedo quality of the snow.

Antarctica is the world's southernmost continent, typically known as a frozen land of snow and ice.

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