Scientists from the IDEAL Center extracted samples in the vicinity of the Escudero, Yelcho and O’Higgins bases, making measurements in the field.

Credit: Dayane Osmann

Andrea Navarro, IDEAL Center. In order to compare the biodiversity and abundance of microorganisms from different snow fields in Antarctica, a team of researchers from the Research Center: Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) moved to two sectors of the White Continent: the areas near the bases O’Higgins, Yelcho, and the Fildes Peninsula.

In the context of the Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA) 55, the experts – led by Dr. Iván Gómez – focused on studying the physiology of snow algae. These are microorganisms that have photo-protective pigments that, when facing stress caused by extreme environmental conditions found on the White Continent, can dye the snow red or green.

“Snow algae are true sensors of climate change, because by their coloration they are able to reduce the reflection of sunlight on snow (a phenomenon known as albedo) and therefore accelerate the melting of snow fields with important consequences for the climate,” explained Dr. Gómez.

“Their physiological responses will give us first-hand information about the environmental state of Antarctica, the place that hosts the largest mass of ice and snow on the planet. Our efforts to integrate studies on photosynthesis and genomic analysis will undoubtedly provide valuable information about the adaptation of these microorganisms to the new polar environment,” he said.

After selecting areas with considerable maritime influence, the researchers set up quadrants of 50 × 50 centimeters in several sectors where they could assess the presence of red and green snow and determine a number of physiological parameters.