Unique images captured by NASA reveal a new Antarctic wonder and this one is visible from outer space.
Last week, the Landsat 8 satellite recorded rare footage of Antarctica — particularly the region called Granite Harbor, a cove in the proximity of the Ross Sea.
The photos, taken on March 5 with the Operational Land Imager aboard the satellite, show eerie green ice formations that scientists have later attributed to microscopic marine plants, also called microalgae.
The ice discoloration is believed to be caused by photosynthetic plankton normally present at the water's surface and which is now undergoing an unusual blooming period.
NASA's Earth Observatory released the rare images on March 9, along with other snapshots of ice and water which offer a beautiful comparative view of this amazing phenomenon, only possible in certain environmental conditions.
Expedition Planned To Study Microalgae Late Bloom And Its Implications
According to marine glaciologist Jan Lieser, from Australia's Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center, phytoplankton and algae can be seen all around Antarctica during the austral spring and summer, lasting until February.
Microalgae require specific circumstances to flourish and thrive, needing a warmer climate and plenty of sunlight to grow. Summer winds and the receding ice make way for phytoplankton to expand, and reach the nutrients that sustain it.
However, it appears offshore winds and fast ice — ice that anchors to the shoreline and provides seeding grounds for phytoplankton — have enabled these resilient microscopic plants to also prosper during autumn, and survive in large enough quantities to color the freshly-forming sea ice in a mesmerizing green hue.
The late-blooming phytoplankton seems to be caught in the slushy ice and scientists are setting to examine whether the microalgae is trapped within the ice formation or beneath it.
Phytoplankton stands at the cornerstone of aquatic ecosystems as the major food source for zooplankton, fish species and other marine wildlife. Any changes in its presence and timeline of existence are consequently of extreme importance for the oceans's ecology.
To find out why microalgae have prolonged their bloom season and how this will impact phytoplankton in the next spring, researchers have scheduled a study expedition and plan to visit Granite Harbor in April.
"Do these kinds of late-season 'blooms' provide the seeding conditions for the next spring's bloom?" wonders Lieser, who also wants to uncover what happens to these microscopic plants "if the algae get incorporated into the sea ice and remain more or less dormant during the winter."