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Environment, Questions

OAS Mains Q&A:Snow in Antarctica, Turning Red

Question

Gradually snow in Antarctica turning Red, in this context discuss it reasons and significance of this condition.

Sample Answer

Over the past few weeks, snow around Ukraine’s Vernadsky Research Base, located off the coast of Antarctica’s northernmost peninsula, has started to take on a red tinge, courtesy of an algae that thrives in freezing weather. Because of the red tinge, the snow is often dubbed “watermelon snow”.

Reasons for snow turning red

  • Such algae as found around the Ukrainian research base grow well in freezing temperatures and liquid water. During the summer, when these typically green algae get a lot of sun, they start producing a natural sunscreen that paints the snow in shades of pink and red. In the winter months, they lie dormant.
  • The algae produce the tinted sunscreen to keep themselves warm. Because the snow becomes darker from the tinge, it absorbs more heat, as a result of which it melts faster.
  • With the cold weather come ice, snow and frost in many parts of the world. Whereas ice is simply frozen water, snow is frozen atmospheric vapour, which falls on the surface in the form of snowfall.
  • Similarly, frost grows from water vapour in the air, but unlike snow it forms close to the ground.
  • Further, these algae, that are not uncommon in other polar settings around the world, change the snow’s albedo, which refers to the amount of light or radiation the snow surface is able to reflect back.

Significance of this Condition

  • The red snow raises concerns about the rate at which the glaciers will melt away and eventually affect sealevel rise.
  • The more the algae packed together, the redder the snow. And darker the tinge, the more the heat absorbed by the snow. Subsequently, the ice melts faster.
  • While the melt is good for the microbes that need the liquid water to survive and thrive, it’s bad for glaciers that are already melting from a myriad of other causes.

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