Fri. Apr 10th, 2020

Antarctica is turning red near a former British research station

2 min read

Red snow near Vernadsky research station, pictured in February 2020.

Red snow near Vernadsky research station in Antarctica (Picture: Ministry of Science Ukraine/east2west)

Climate change is turning Antarctica red.

These pictures snapped by Ukrainian scientists show a huge swathe of snow around their base in Antarctica turning red – as if covered in blood.

The Vernadsky Research Base located at Marina point on Galindez Island of Argentine Islands used to be owned by the British, but was sold to Ukraine for a token £1 in 1996.

It’s now home to the Ukrainian National Scientific Centre In Antarctica, which says the red colour was produced by algae identified as Chlamydomonas nivalis which is known for causing the phenomenon referred to as ‘watermelon snow’ or ‘blood snow’.

Chlamydomonas nivalis is a species of green algae that contains a secondary red pigment that protects it from ultraviolet radiation, and unlike most freshwater algae, it thrives in cold and in particular freezing water.

The red colour absorbs the sunlight, which melts the snow which in turn provides more water for the algae to grow in.

Red snow near Vernadsky research station, pictured in February 2020.

The research station was sold to Ukraine by the British in 1996 (Picture: Ministry of Science Ukraine/east2west)

According to the scientists the unseasonably warm weather in Antarctica has triggered the early arrival of the phenomenon.

During the cold winter months, the algae remains dormant but in spring, the increased levels of light, meltwater and nutrients stimulate germination.

Red snow near Vernadsky research station, pictured in February 2020.

The red colour is due to algae in the snow (Picture: Ministry of Science Ukraine/east2west)

The phenomenon was first recorded by Aristotle and ever since then has puzzled climbers, explorers and naturalists alternatively have put it down to mineral deposits and oxidisation before it was finally confirmed to be algae.

In the UK for ships sailing from England looking for the North West passage in 1818 recorded red snow, and it was seen in the Scottish Highlands in the Cairngorm Mountains in 1967.

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