Scientists at Ukraine’s Vernadsky Research Base in Antarctica woke up to a shocking sight. They found their surroundings, otherwise filled with snow, was shockingly drenched in blood-red colour. They would be forgiven for thinking it was a penguin massacre site! The cause, however, turned out to be a little less dramatic but something which can have far more lethal consequences for ecology and human survival.
The scientists have found out the reason behind the reddening of the snow cover near the research base in Antarctica. A single cellular Green Algae named Chlamydomonas Nivalis, which are commonly present in all snowy regions of Earth, were responsible for that red appearance of the Antarctic region.
The algae C. Nivalis is a green algae as it has chloroplast for the process of photosynthesis. It has two locomotory organs called flagella at their young age to swim in liquid water. As they grow and gain maturity, their mobility is regressed. In a bid to fight against extreme conditions, they develop adaptations such as hard, insulating cell wall and with that a layer of red carotenoids. These carotenoids were the responsible factor that led to snow becoming red in the research base in Antarctica.
This variety of Algae resides deep inside the snow layer but once the favorable condition comes, the algae spring awake, making use of the meltwater and sunlight to bloom rapidly. The carotenoids help Chlamydomonas to absorb more warmth which in turn creates more meltwater for them to thrive in. This phenomenon is known as Algal Bloom.
Algal Bloom has serious consequences on the environment. Algal Bloom decreases the reflection of light from snow and subsequently leads to more absorption. On average, Algal Bloom lowers the reflection of light from snow by up to 13 percent in one melt season in the Arctic region. An increase in absorption of light and a decrease in reflection will ultimately lead to higher melt rates and thereby enhancing the rate of global warming.