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The white continent is blushing and that’s not a good sign for the planet at all. En Antarctica, the snow indeed takes on a disturbing red color. Red as blood that would have spilled on the snow. Fortunately, this is not a massacre of penguins. This color testifies to the presence in the snow of a microscopic alga, the Chlamydomonas nivalis present almost everywhere in the world. Besides, in the Alps, it is nicknamed: “snow algae” or “glacier blood”.
This alga is able to withstand extreme temperatures but when it blushes, it is because it defends itself. It produces carotenoids to protect against UV by absorbing them. A molecule from the carotene family, found in carrots. The more the sun, the warmer it is and the more this algae develops. In February, Antarctica experienced a historic heat peak, it was 18.4 ° C while temperatures usually range from –28 ° C to –3 ° C.
It is a consequence of global warming. And cIs also a cause, as it plays a role in accelerating the melting of snow. Thehe purple color, unlike white, reflects less the sun. The snow therefore melts faster. A review study Nature (in English) published in 2016 shows that the proliferation of this alga in Greenland reduces the reflective power of ice by 13% during the hot season. It’s a terrible vicious circle.