There's moss in Antarctica now, and it's getting even greener

Joan Terry
May 20, 2017

Professor Sharon Robinson, a climate change biologist at the University of Wollongong said the study by the United Kingdom researchers reaffirmed that mosses were a sensitive proxy for climate change in Antarctica.

"What that result suggests to us is in the future if this warming continues there will be what we've called a greening of the Antarctic Peninsula", Amesbury said.

In 2013, researchers studying mosses and microbes growing at the southern end of the Antarctic Peninsula documented unprecedented ecological change over the last 50 years, driven by warming temperatures.

A group of scientists analyzed the historical data of the last 150 years and had identified specific points of time when the biological activity got increased.

'The sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region, ' said Professor Dan Charman, who led the research project in Exeter.

A study published today in the journal Current Biology examined moss found along the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The growth of moss on the land of Antarctica is causing it to turn green where there used to be just ice, with some attributing the growth to climate change.

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These samples were taken at three distant sites totaling approximately 640 km in the Antarctic Peninsula on the Elephant, Ardley and Green islands, where the layers of foam are the thickest and oldest.

"If the temperatures are below 0C, it doesn't matter if they change by 1 or 2 degrees, because all the water is still locked away as ice", she says.

The cores reveal that the warming climate of Antarctica in the past 50 years has spurred on biological activity: the rate of moss growth is now four to five times higher than it was pre-1950. Stretches of the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula are covered with deep, green mossy banks. "The reason we think that this is a response driven by climate change is because of the very wide-scale impact we see across the whole of the Antarctic Peninsula".

"Although there was variability within our data, the consistency of what we found across different sites was striking". Amerbury believes that the situation in Antarctic in far from what is happening in the Arctic but continued warming shall bring out a different landscape.

"What we're also seeing concurrently with climate change are other physical processes such as glacier retreat particularly", Dr Amesbury said.

Researchers say global warming has already transformed the Arctic into a "new state" and that further change is inevitable in the near future.

Other reports by BadHub

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