Ukrainian scientists woke up to a rather strange phenomenon on the morning of Monday 24 February, as the ice that surrounded their Vernadsky Research Base in Antarctica had ominously turned red in colour.
The reasoning behind this drastic colour change is down to microscopic Chlamydomonas nivalis algae, and of course climate change. As the Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science explained on a Facebook post, Chlamydomonas nivalis algae thrives when weather conditions are favourable during the summer Antarctic months.
This algae is able to survive in a dormant state during the arctic winter, and sprouts once temperatures rise during the summer, usually between the months of October and February.
The algea’s red tint is due to a red carotene layer which protects it from ultraviolet radiation. This strange phenomenon has also been observed in the Alps, Arctic, and other high altitude mountainous regions.
Chlamydomonas nivalis algae has a more sinister side to it though. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science Facebook post, “Because of the red-crimson colour, the snow reflects less sunlight and melts faster.”
“As a consequence, it produces more and more bright algae.”
A test done on an Alaskan ice field showed red snow increased melting by almost a fifth, adding to rising oceans and warming temperatures around the world.
Cold temperatures are able to render the algae dormant once again, however, earlier this month temperatures in Antarctica reached a new record high, with the Esperanza station experiencing temperatures as high as 18.3 °C.
Image: Facebook/Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science