Mosses and lichens are considered the dominant photosynthetic organisms in Antarctica - but the new mapping found 1,679 separate algal blooms that are a key component in the continent's ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Scientists have mapped "the beginning of a new ecosystem" on the Antarctic peninsula as microscopic algae bloom across the surface of the melting snow, tinting the surface green and potentially creating a source of nutrition for other species.
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Biologists from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey spent six years detecting and measuring the green snow algae using a combination of satellite data and ground observation.
"This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life on Antarctica, and how it might change in the coming years as the climate warms", Matt Davey, the study's leader, said.
Snow algae were first described during expeditions to Antarctica in the 1950s and 1960s. "In fact when you look around the fringe there is a lot of plant life".
They also found that the majority of algae blooms were within five kilometres (three miles) of a penguin colony, as the birds' excrement is an excellent fertiliser.
Andrew Gray, lead author of the paper, and a researcher at the University of Cambridge and NERC Field Spectroscopy Facility in Edinburgh, said: "As Antarctica warms, we predict the overall mass of snow algae will increase, as the spread to higher ground will significantly outweigh the loss of small island patches of algae".
Study creator Andrew Gray geotagging the snow algae blooms.
While more algae means more Carbon dioxide is absorbed, the plants could have a small but adverse impact on local albedo - how much of the Sun's heat is reflected back from Earth's surface.
"Conversely, in the north of the peninsula we saw some really large blooms and we hypothesise that we are likely to see more of these larger blooms".
Whereas white snow reflects 80 percent of radiation that hits it, for green snow that figure is closer to 45 percent.
"There will be more carbon locked up in future just because you need snow to be in a slushier state for algae to bloom", said Evans.