The Future of Antarctica Is Probably Going to Be Greener

Antarctic moss

The Future of Antarctica Is Probably Going to Be Greener

Moss growth opens the door to other plants potentially taking root in the Antarctic - and although a lush green continent might sound inviting, researchers are concerned.

"Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human induced climate change", Dr. Matt Amesbury from the University of Exeter said. Recent studies of the Antarctic continent have revealed some seriously attractive changes, but as the result of pretty devastating melting from global warming.

Since 1950, temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by about half a degree Celsius each decade - much faster than the global average.

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 study says the results suggest Antarctica's ecosystems will "alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region". 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.

Antarctica is home to ice, penguins and - thanks to climate change - rapidly increasing levels of moss, scientists say.

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The results, published today in Current Biology, show an unprecedented surge in growth all the way along a 600-kilometre stretch of the coastline, particularly since the 1950s.

Moss banks are generally well preserved in Antarctica's cold conditions and analysing drilled core samples from the regions can provide information about the area dating back hundreds of years. Researchers were able to determine the effects climate change has on moss by looking at samples of moss bank cores.

The changes in the Antarctic also parallel the greening occurring in the Arctic, according to the study.

While the prospect of more plant growth might sound like a good thing from a greenhouse gas perspective, Professor Robinson said the warming could potentially release greenhouse gases from the ancient buried moss, which has so far remained frozen. [Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images] The researchers have taken photos of certain parts of the Antarctic Peninsula that show a surprisingly green landscape. 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", said Dan Charman, another author from Exeter.

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