Red snow at Antarctic Vernadsky station | Polarjournal
Gentoo penguin in front of reddish snow at “Vernadsky” station. (Photo: Sergei Glotov)

Around the Ukrainian Antarctic station “Akademik Vernadsky” the snow has turned a reddish color. The reason for the color change was the mass accumulation of microscopic snow algae, which reproduce by spores and do not mind from extreme temperatures. Such coloration, as the scientists of the Ukrainian Antarctic Program explain on their Facebook page, is caused by the development of microscopic green unicellular algae in the snow.

Vernadski Station is a Ukrainian research station in Antarctica. From 1947 to 1996, Vernadski was a British Antarctic station named Faraday Station. (Photo: Sergei Glotov)

Interestingly, the alga has three color levels: green, orange and purple or red. It overwinters under the snow in the “green” variant, where chlorophyll predominates. As it gets warmer, it gets closer to the surface and slowly turnd red because it forms carotenoids, a natural pigment. The same compounds contains the color of carrots. Carotenoids protect algae from ultraviolet radiation.

This was reported by the official site of the scientific station Vernadsky. The pink coloration of the snow is typical for the end of the Antarctic summer.

Ukrainian scientists are taking and fixing samples of colored snow to analyze on the “mainland” to better understand the chemical basis for the transformation of these algae.

Penguin parade in front of unusual scenery. (Photo: Sergei Glotov)

The “snow bloom” contributes to climate change. Finally, snow reflects less sunlight due to the coloring and melts faster. As a result, more algae develop in it, which accelerate melting. Therefore, it is important to survey the area of “blooming snow” on the research plots each year to see the overall trends of climate change impacts. This work is carried out by biologists at the “Vernadsky” station with the help of a drone.

“Snow bloom” can be observed also in the Arctic as well as in the Alps and other high mountain ecosystems.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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