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Antarctica Is Melting Than Faster Than Ever Thanks To ‘Blood Snow’

by : Julia Banim on : 25 Feb 2020 11:57
Antarctic Heatwave Melted 20% Of An Islands Snow In Nine DaysAntarctic Heatwave Melted 20% Of An Islands Snow In Nine DaysNASA

A nine-day heatwave in Antarctica has melted almost one-quarter of an Antarctic island’s snow cover earlier this month.

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Weather stations within the region saw the hottest temperature ever recorded for Antarctica on February 6, 2020, with Esperanza Base thermometers at the Antarctic Peninsula northern tip soaring to a dramatic 18.3°C (64.9°F).

For context, this was approximately the same temperature recorded in Los Angeles that same day. These unprecedented high temperatures began on February 8 and continued until February 13, leading to widespread melting on nearby glaciers.

Antarctic HeatwaveAntarctic HeatwaveNASA

This heatwave was illustrated by shocking satellite images taken by NASA, which show how significant portions of land beneath the island’s ice cap were left exposed.

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In just nine days, four inches of Eagle Island’s snowpack melted, totalling around 20% of the island’s seasonal snow accumulation.

Nichols College glaciologist Mauri Pelto said:

I haven’t seen melt ponds develop this quickly in Antarctica. You see these kinds of melt events in Alaska and Greenland, but not usually in Antarctica.

According to Pelto, this rapid melting was caused by persistent high temperatures found to be substantially above freezing. Such sustained warmth was not typical of Antarctica until the 21st century, and has become more frequent in recent years.

This heatwave marks the third major melt event of the 2019-2020 summer season in the Antarctic, which also saw warm spells in November and January.

Pelto continued:

If you think about this one event in February, it isn’t that significant. It’s more significant that these events are coming more frequently.

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The blast of warmth is reportedly due to a combination of meteorological factors, from dry, warm mountain winds to larger patterns within both the ocean and atmosphere. However, this unusual weather is also consistent with disturbing long-term trends.

AntarcticaAntarcticaPA

Going forward, scientists are now working to figure out whether this warm weather event is on the way to being classed as a climate event.

As reported by the National Geographic, Randall Cerveny, head of weather and climate extremes tracking at the World Meteorological Organisation, is establishing a committee to investigate these high temperature readings, verifying whether they meet the WMO’s standards for official records.

Cerveny told the National Geographic:

When we are looking at an extreme record, we have to get all the info for that sensor, location, [and] station.

Was it at the right height? Had it been calibrated? Was the person, if it’s a manual station, taking the readings properly? Was the site proper? All of those are things we have to take a look at.

Esperanza Base and other Antarctic Peninsula research stations have seen temperatures rise by five degrees Fahrenheit in the years between the 1950s and the early 2000s – far above the average rate of global warming.

Red snowRed snowCEN

These findings come after striking photos emerged which show how the snow in Antarctica is turning red; accelerating the effects of climate change by melting the ice caps.

The startling images, snapped by a team of Ukranian scientists, show a large area of snow around their Antarctic base painted red, looking as if blood or paint had been splashed around.

The pics were taken at the Vernadsky Research Base, by members of the Ukrainian National Scientific Centre In Antarctica. Located at Marina point on Galindez Island, this is the former British Faraday Station which was sold to Ukraine for a token 1 GBP back in 1996.

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Red SnowRed SnowCEN

Scientists have since explained the eye-catching red colour had been produced by a type of algae identified as Chlamydomonas nivalis, known for causing a phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘watermelon snow’ or ‘blood snow’.

This is a species of green algae which contains a secondary red pigment which offers protection from ultraviolet radiation. Unlike the majority of freshwater algae, Chlamydomonas nivalis thrives in cold and freezing waters.

The blood red colour absorbs the sunlight, which in turn melts the snow, providing yet more cold water within which the algae can thrive.

According to the scientists, the unusually warm Antarctic weather has led to the phenomenon arriving unseasonably early. Throughout the cold winter months, Chlamydomonas nivalis will stay dormant with germination stimulated on again in the spring months by increased light, meltwater and nutrients.

Red SnowRed SnowCEN

First recorded by Aristotle, climbers, explorers and naturalists were left perplexed by this very Gothic looking phenomenon for many centuries, until it was finally confirmed to be a type of algae.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: News, Antarctic, Antarctic Heatwave, Climate Change, Global Warming, NASA, Snow

Credits

National Geographic and 1 other
  1. National Geographic

    The Antarctic Peninsula is setting heat records. They won’t stand long.

  2. NASA

    Antarctica Melts Under Its Hottest Days on Record