Antarctica 'greening' due to climate change

Green Island moss bank with icebergs. SWNSMore
Green Island moss bank with icebergs. SWNSMore
Author

19 May, 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. Stretches of the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula are covered with deep, green mossy banks.

Salzmann ran simulations using a computer model of the Earth system, which showed that reducing Antarctica's land height would cause it to warmer quicker.

Two species of moss especially are undergoing spectacular development - they used to grow less than a millimeter per year, but now, they're growing over 3 millimeters per year on average - and they're turning Antarctica green.

"This gives us a much clearer idea of the scale over which these changes are occurring", said Amesbury.

Moss growth has "increased by 4 or 5 times" in the past five decades, according to Tom Roland, one of the co-authors of the report. "Between 1950 and 2000 in the Antarctic Peninsula, temperatures increased by half a degree per decade on average".

"The results of that analysis lead us to believe there will be a future "greening" of the Antarctic and a further increase in moss growth rates".

However the Antarctic has a long way to go before its appearance is radically transformed.

Moss and plants have been growing more quickly in the last 50 years on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the trend might continue.

"Antarctica is not going to become entirely green, but it will become more green than it now is", Amesbury added.

"These changes, combined with increased ice-free land areas from glacier retreat, will drive large-scale adjustment to the biological functioning, appearance, and landscape of the [Antarctic peninsula] over the rest of the 21st century and beyond", they write.

Do not be fooled, although stunning in its own right, these rolling green hills are what we could come to expect when we reference Antarctica from now on.

Those who doubt global warming is already happening should take note.

Project leader professor Dan Charman said: "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".

"The Antarctic is perhaps thought of as a very remote region, one of the last places that might be relatively untouched by humankind", Dr Amesbury said.

"Antarctica is not going to become entirely green, but it will become more green than it now is", said Matt Amesbury, co-author of the research from the University of Exeter.

"Although there was variability within our data, the consistency of what we found across different sites was striking", said Dan Charman, another author from Exeter.

The team then analysed the cores, examining the top 20cm of each to allow the scientists to look back over 150 years and explore changes over time across a number of factors.


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