"Spooky 'blood snow' invades Antarctic Island. "
Updated: 21 hours ago
A modern plague. By Brandon Specktor.
The blood-red algae behind the phenomenon could kick off a runaway feedback loop of warming, researchers warned.
Antarctica, Antarctica, which means record-high temperatures, jarring glacial melt and — in a very metal symbol of our changing climate — a bit of blood-red snow spattered across the Antarctic Peninsula.
By Brandon Specktor, Live Science
It's summer in Antarctica, which means record-high temperatures, jarring glacial melt and — in a very metal symbol of our changing climate — a bit of blood-red snow spattered across the Antarctic Peninsula. Over the past several weeks, the ice around Ukraine's Vernadsky Research Base (located on Galindez Island, off the coast of Antarctica's northernmost peninsula) has been coated in what researchers are calling "raspberry snow." A Facebook post by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine shows the scene in full detail: streaks of red and pink slashing across the edges of glaciers and puddling on the frosty plain.
That blood (or "jam" as the researchers whimsically call it) is actually a type of red-pigmented alga called Chlamydomonas Chlamydomonas nivalis, which hides in snowfields and mountains worldwide. The algae thrive in freezing water and spend winters lying dormant in snow and ice; when summer comes and the snow melts, the algae bloom, spreading red, flower-like spores.
This phenomenon, which Aristotle noticed way back in the third century B.C., is known as "watermelon snow," "blood snow" and a host of other less poetic names.
Blood-red algae blanket the snow near Antarctica's Vernadsky Research Base.Andrey Zotov
The phenomenon's red color comes from carotenoids (the same pigments that make pumpkins and carrots orange) in the algae's chloroplasts. In addition to their crimson hue, these pigments also absorb heat and protect the algae from ultraviolet light, allowing the organisms to bask in the summer sun's nutrients without risk of genetic mutations.
That's good for the algae but not great for the ice. According to the Ukrainian researchers, it’s easy for these blooms to kick off a runaway feedback loop of warming and melting.