Credit: Lars Chresten, Lund Hansen
By Kelly Dickerson
Although the surface of Antarctica is almost completely white, a field of green and brown algae clings to the underside of the sea ice around the frozen continent.
Previously, this underwater forest of algae was accessible only to marine creatures or specially trained divers. But now, researchers are using pioneering drones to scout out and map the miles of algae mats.
The Antarctic algae begin growing in early spring and rely on the small amount of sunlight that penetrates the ice to survive. They play a key role in the Antarctic food chain by supplying food for krill and other tiny animals.
“The ice algae account for 15 to 20 percent of the primary production in the Antarctic sea ice area,” Brian Sorrell, one of the researchers working on the project for Aarhus University in Denmark, said in a statement. “They’re particularly important because they utilize the weak light in spring, when there are no other primary producers to provide food and energy for the rest of the food chain.”
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