"In some place, it would be the beginning of a new ecosystem", Matt Davey, plant and algal physiologist at the Department of Plant Sciences at the Cambridge University, who was involved in the study, told The Guardian.
But that loss will probably be offset by a preponderance of large algae blooms as temperatures rise and snow at higher altitudes softens.
Climate change is turning parts of coastal Antarctica green, according to University of Cambridge scientists. Because algal blooms act as a carbon sink, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, understanding its response to climate change is important.
Green is not the only splash of colour in Antarctica.
Individual organisms are microscopic, but the vast growth and algae clusters turn visibly green. The researchers used satellite images from the European Space Agency taken between 2017 and 2019, and combined those with observations they made themselves in a trip to Antarctica's Ryder Bay, Adelaide Island, the Fildes Peninsula, and King George Island.
More than 60 percent of the green snow blooms analyzed by scientists were found within a few miles of penguin colonies, and many other large blooms were identified near the nesting sites of other bird species.
Nearly two thirds of the algal blooms were found on low-lying islands and the researchers predict that rising temperatures may see such islands become covered in algae.
The blooms of the "green snow" algae are usually found on the coastline of the continent, especially near the islands on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
"Before we know whether this has a significant impact on carbon budgets or bio albedo, we need to run the numbers", Andrew Gray from Cambridge University, the lead author of the paper, said. The blooms the researchers mapped can remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as driving a vehicle a million miles would create. They plan further work to measure these other algal blooms, and also to measure the blooms across the whole of Antarctica using a mixture of field work and satellite images.
While the presence of algae in Antarctica was noted by long-ago expeditions, such as the one undertaken by British explorer Ernest Shackleton, its full extent was unknown. As the peninsula heats up, some of those islands may lose their summer snow, and with it, their snow algae.