Thursday, 19 October, 2017

Antarctica to be 'much greener place' due to climate change, scientists find

Antarctica's Green Island moss bank with icebergs in the background. |         Matt Amesbury Antarctica's Green Island moss bank with icebergs in the background. | Matt Amesbury
Derrick Tucker | 20 May, 2017, 03:26

According to Amesbury, even though people think of Antarctica as an extremely icy place, the research reveals that parts of the peninsula are green.

"Because we have got this wide transect now and all of the [sites examined] are showing the same response, consistently over that 1,000km transect, that makes us much more confident that it is a response to temperature change", said Amesbury. This further indicates that moss is quite sensitive to such temperature increases and that expected future warming could further fuel additional growth.

The Antarctic Peninsula is considered one of the most rapidly warming regions with annual temperatures rising about 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade since the 1950's.

Researchers from Exeter and Cambridge universities and the British Antarctic Survey studied a 150-year period of moss growth in the Antarctic Peninsula by taking samples from the material laid down each year.

Careful analysis of those five cores going back 150 years showed increased biological activity as the Peninsula has warmed in the last 50 years.

'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.

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"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.

Weather records mostly began in the 1950s but biological records preserved in moss bank cores can provide a longer-term context about climate change. Those sites include three Antarctic islands (Elephant Island, Ardley Island, and Green Island) where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow, representing a 600-kilometer transect along the Peninsula.

'In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic. That could bring an ecosystem shift to Antarctica that is more in line with what researchers have found in the Arctic.

The change is because of warming temperatures, the scientists say.

The researchers, who reported the results of their study in an open-access paper in the journal Cell Biology, also looked into how sensitive the moss would be to further warming. They extracted cores from them-just as scientists do with ice and sediments. But that doesn't disprove the growing understanding of human-caused climate change, said Marc Salzmann, a researcher at the University of Leipzig in Germany.

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