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article imageBlood-red ice in Antarctica an ominous sign of climate change

By Karen Graham     Feb 27, 2020 in Science
A few weeks ago, scientists at Ukraine's Vernadsky Research Base in Antarctica awoke to find their usually pristine white surroundings drenched in a shocking blood-red.
Ukraine's Vernadsky Research Base is located on Galindez Island, off the coast of Antarctica's northernmost peninsula. Ukrainian researchers have been describing the red snow as "raspberry snow."
No, there was not a mass slaughter of penguins, now was the research station a backdrop for a horror movie. Instead, the causative agent is a unicellular alga called Chlamydomonas nivalis. The algae's Latin meaning describes the organism well - as this species of algae are only found associated with snow or near snowy areas.
Green algal cell (Chlamydomonas nivalis) responsible for red coloration of mountain snow packs.
Green algal cell (Chlamydomonas nivalis) responsible for red coloration of mountain snow packs.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine posted some pictures on their Facebook page that show the scene in full detail: streaks of red and pink slashing across the edges of glaciers and puddling on the frosty plains.
Aristotle described blood snow
The phenomenon, which Aristotle noticed way back in the third century B.C. - is caused by Chlamydomonas nivalis. It is a uni-cellular red-colored photosynthetic green alga. The algae has a thick cell wall, and particles on the cell wall are some characteristics that protect the cyst from light, drought, and radiation stress.
The red coloration comes from carotenoids (the same pigments that make pumpkins and carrots orange) in the algae's chloroplasts. This algae usually slumbers all through the winter, but warm temperatures and heated meltwater wake the cells up and helps them to bloom.
 Our scientists have identified them under a microscope as Chlamydomonas nivalis   said the National...
"Our scientists have identified them under a microscope as Chlamydomonas nivalis," said the National Antarctic Scientific Centre of Ukraine in a Facebook post.
Ministry of Education and Science
"The algae need liquid water in order to bloom," University of Leeds microbiologist Steffi Lutz told Gizmodo in 2016. Young C. nivalis is green due to their photosynthesizing chloroplasts and they have two tail-like structures called flagella, which they flail about to swim with.
As they get older, they lose their mobility and develop unique adaptations to survive their extreme environment, including a secondary insulating cell wall and a layer of red carotenoids, which changes their appearance from green to orange to red.
Ominous sign for global warming
According to the Ukrainian researchers, it’s easy for these blooms to kick off a runaway feedback loop of warming and melting, reports Live Science.
Marine ecologist Andrey Zotov from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine  captured these image...
Marine ecologist Andrey Zotov from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, captured these images while conducting research at the Antarctic station.
National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
"Snow blossoms contribute to climate change," the team wrote in the Facebook post. "Because of the red-crimson color, the snow reflects less sunlight and melts faster. As a consequence, it produces more and more bright algae." The researchers are describing a "feed-back" loop, and we have talked about this before in a number of studies related to climate change.
Basically, increased temperatures lead to more melting of crystalized water, which encourages the growth of more algae, which leads to more melting and so on. And just a quick note. While it may be called watermelon or raspberry snow, but is toxic to humans.
More about Chlamydomonas nivalis, watermelon snow, Vernadsky Research Base, Antarctica, Global warming
 
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