Climate change is making Antarctica greener

Cesar Mills
May 19, 2017

"Temperature increases over roughly the past half century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region", said Dr Matt Amesbury, of the University of Exeter.

"On average, in terms of the growth rate of moss before and after 1950, there has been a four to five-fold increase in average growth rates".

An worldwide team of climate scientists found the reason due to which the atmosphere over Antarctica heats up much slower than over the Arctic.

"If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, Antarctica will head even further back in geologic time. perhaps the peninsula will even become forested again someday, like it was during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous and Eocene, when the continent was ice free", DeConto continued by email. As the layer builds on top of layer, older moss below the layer subside the frozen ground where they are well conserved due to the temperatures. The increase in growth along a long, 400-mile stretch of the peninsula suggests that climate change rather than localised factors are likely to be the cause.

They also looked carbon in the plants that indicates how favourable conditions were for photosynthesis at a certain point in time.

It can now be said that Antarctica is the one of the most rapidly warming places on earth.

"This is linking into other processes that are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula at the moment, particularly things like glacier retreat which are freeing up new areas of ice-free land - and the mosses particularly are very effective colonisers of those new areas", he added.

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"Previously, we had only identified such a response in a single location at the far south of the Antarctic Peninsula, but now we know that moss banks are responding to recent climate change across the whole of the Peninsula".

Analysing the data, they found evidence of "changepoints" - when biological activity increased - in the last five decades. "In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic".

Plant life is growing on Antarctica like never before in modern times, fueled by global warming which is melting ice and transforming the landscape from white to green, researchers said Thursday.

The same group of researchers published a study focussing on one site in 2013, and the new research confirms that their unprecedented finding can be applied to a much larger region.

Plant life on Antarctica is scarce, existing on only 0.3% of the continent, but moss, well preserved in chilly sediments, offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes.

The researchers, who were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), now plan to examine core records dating back over thousands of years to test how much climate change affected ecosystems before human activity started causing global warming.

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