Blood snow in Antarctica

Few things are as creepy as blood in the snow. On the peaceful white background, the red color shines. A famous story by García Márquez is called: "The trail of your blood in the snow." From what snow looks like in Antarctica these days, García Márquez would have much more to say. Blood snow is a visually shocking phenomenon.

The snow of blood, a visually striking phenomenon
The snow of blood, a visually striking phenomenon.

In recent weeks a strange red snow is staining the ice. It happens around the Vernadsky Research Base of Ukraine. It is located on the island of Galindez, off the coast of the northernmost peninsula of Antarctica. A Facebook post from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine shows the scene in detail. Red and pink stripes are visible at the edges of glaciers and puddles in the icy plains.

Although it is a stamp that does not usually appear on postcards, it is not unusual. Aristotle already spoke of this phenomenon in the third century BC. C. Scientists have discovered that, in reality, it is a type of algae called Chlamydomonas Chlamydomonas nivalis. It is in the icy waters of the mountains and other ecosystems with extreme cold. During winter, these algae are dormant in snow and ice. When summer comes, they bloom, spreading their red spores.


The ingrown color comes from carotenoids. They are the same pigments that give the orange touch to pumpkins and carrots. They are in the algae chloroplasts. In addition to their crimson tone, they also absorb heat and protect algae from ultraviolet light. That allows organisms to enjoy the nutrients of the summer sun without the risk of genetic mutations.

The phenomenon has been known since ancient times.
The phenomenon has been known since ancient times.

All this is good for algae, but not so much for ice. According to Ukrainian researchers, it is easy for these flowers to start an uncontrolled feedback cycle of warming and melting. "Snow flowers contribute to climate change," the team wrote in the Facebook post. “Due to the crimson-red color, the snow reflects less sunlight and melts faster. As a result, they produce more and more bright algae ».

The more heat the seaweed absorbs, the faster the surrounding ice melts. The more ice melts, the faster the algae spread. That, in turn, leads to greater warming of the area, more melting of the ice and more flowering of algae. A vicious circle that can accelerate the thaw.

A similar feedback process is driving the proliferation of more extreme algae in the oceans around the world. This results in surreal scenes like an invasion of sea foam in Tossa de Mar (Girona) or the blue bioluminescent "tears" that cling to the coasts of China. While blood snow has existed for millions of years, algal blooms thrive in hot climates. Which means we can probably expect to see more similar phenomena as the weather changes. Increasingly and hotter.

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