Antarctic turning green as global warming triggers moss explosion

Antarctic moss

Climate change is making Antarctica greener

According to the scientists, Antarctica is turning green due to rising temperatures.

This plant growth has been being steadily tracked over the past 50 years and reveal an unprecedented surge in new life along a 600 kilometre stretch of the Antarctica's coastline.

"We can't measure temperature or any other aspect of climate directly in these moss banks, but we can measure things that respond to temperature", said Dr Amesbury, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Exeter.

In the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula experienced rapid temperature increases, warming by about half a degree per decade.

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"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", Dan Charman, who led the project at Exeter, said in a statement.

The polar regions are warming more rapidly than the rest of the Earth, as greenhouse gasses from fossil fuel burning build up in the atmosphere and trap heat.

A bank of moss on the appropriately named Green Island in the Antarctic.

Lead researcher Matt Amesbury said the research focused on moss banks that slowly accumulate by growing a few millimetres each summer along the peninsula.

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They looked at 150 years' worth of data and found clear "changepoints" in the last 50 years that showed the increase of moss cover.

Average annual temperatures on the peninsula - the panhandle that points toward South America - have gone up almost 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 1950s, when researchers started keeping detailed weather records. "We could see the Antarctic becoming more and more green as has already been observed in the Arctic", he said.

These samples were taken at three distant sites totaling approximately 640 km in the Antarctic Peninsula on the Elephant, Ardley and Green islands, where the layers of foam are the thickest and oldest.

"Assuming a flat Antarctica allows for more transport of warm air from lower attitudes", he said. Scientists once thought tiny marine plants known as phytoplankton could not thrive under sea ice in the frigid Arctic ocean. Matt Amesbury from the University of Exeter believes the Antarctic Peninsula will be much greener in the future if the increase in the quantity of moss continues with "increasing amounts of ice-free land from continued glacier retreat".

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The research teams, which included scientists from the University of Cambridge and British Antarctic Survey, say their data indicates that plants and soils will change substantially even with only modest further warming.

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