QR.bizNewsAntarctica is getting greener due to climate change, scientists say

Antarctica is getting greener due to climate change, scientists say

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.

"In the second half of the 20th Century, the Antarctic Peninsula was one of the most rapidly warming regions on the planet, at about 0.5C per decade", Amesbury said.

Antarctica isn't known for plants - in fact, it is mostly a barren landscape of ice and more ice.

The scientists reviewed moss banks, finding that major biological changes had occurred over the past 50 years across the Antarctica Peninsula.

According to Professor Dan Charman, the increase of the sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises means the ecosystem is going to face rapid changes due to future warming.

"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", he said. The researchers found two types of moss that grow to three millimeters per year, although previously they were only growing a millimeter a year.

The conclusions were based on moss bank cores taken from a span of approximately 400 miles, stretching from Green Island to Elephant Island.

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. "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". Thus, they looked at sediments from the past 150 years, studying the amount of moss, its rate of growth, the size of populations of microbes and a ratio of different forms, or isotopes, of carbon in the plants.

"Although there was variability within our data, the consistency of what we found across different sites was striking", Prof.

He says that has already happened in some of the sub-Antarctic islands, where non-indigenous species have been brought in accidentally on the clothing and equipment of researchers.

The researchers said they'll continue 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.

This offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes.

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

NASA's Ice Bridge mission in Antarctica. (Courtesy John Sonntag  NASA  Handout via REUTERS

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