Green Snow Is Spreading in Antarctica Due to the Climate Crisis
Coastal Antarctica has seen has a curious phenomenon over the last few years. The green snow that hugs parts of its shores has started to spread farther inland. And it's all caused by the climate crisis.
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications on Wednesday found that the green glow in the snow is actually caused by a microscopic algae blooming on the surface of the snow, according to CBS News.
The researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and the British Antarctic Survey say the algae will spread as the planet heats up because warming temperatures are creating more of the slushy conditions that the algae need in order to thrive, according to The Guardian.
Where the algae are at their most dense, their bright green shine alters the appearance of the snow and is actually visible from space. The scientists also say that as the algae spreads, it will invite in other species that will feast on it as a potent source of nutrition, as The Guardian reported.
To conduct the study, the researchers looked at satellite data gathered between 2017 and 2019 and combined it with on-the-ground measurements over two summers in Antarctica. That process allowed the scientists to map the microscopic algae as they bloomed across the snow of the Antarctic Peninsula, according to CNN. The data was gleaned from images collected by the European Space Agency satellites with measurements from Antarctica's Ryder Bay, Adelaide Island, the Fildes Peninsula and King George Island.
What is reported is actually a conservative estimate since the data only included green algae. The satellite is only capable of picking up green, which means the data ignored the red and orange algae that accompany it.
"We now have a baseline of where the algal blooms are and we can see whether the blooms will start increasing as the models suggest in the future," said Matt Davey of the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences to Reuters.
Even though mosses and lichens are the dominant plant species in Antarctica, the new mapping identified 1,679 separate algal blooms that are a key component in the continent's ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as Reuters reported.
"The algal blooms in Antarctica are equivalent to about the amount of carbon that's being omitted by 875,000 average UK petrol car journeys," Davey said to Reuters. "That seems a lot but in terms of the global carbon budget, it's insignificant. It does take up carbon from the atmosphere but it won't make any serious dent in the amount of carbon dioxide being put in the atmosphere at the moment."
The green snow appears along the Antarctic coast, which are "warmer" areas. There, the average temperatures reach just above freezing in the summer.
The researchers found that the distribution of green snow algae is strongly influenced by marine birds and mammals, because their excrement serves as an effective fertilizer. Over 60 percent of blooms were found near penguin colonies, and others were found near birds' nesting sites, according to CBS News.
"This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life on Antarctica, and how it might change in the coming years as the climate warms," said Davey in a press release.
In order to flourish, the algae need a ready supply of water, which they should have an ample amount of as the planet heats up and snow on the Antarctica Peninsula melts.
"As Antarctica warms, we predict the overall mass of snow algae will increase, as the spread to higher ground will significantly outweigh the loss of small island patches of algae," said co-lead author Dr. Andrew Gray, of the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, as CBS News reported.
And the algae will help more snow melt.
"It's very dark — a green snow algal bloom will reflect about 45 percent of light hitting it whereas fresh snow will reflect about 80 percent of the light hitting it, so it will increase the rate of snow melt in a localized area," said Gray to CNN.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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