Climate change is making Antarctica greener

Phillip Butler
May 20, 2017

In fact, the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the regions with the fastest warming on the planet with a temperature rise of about 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade since the 1950s.

"Then the next summer they thaw and grow some more", study author Matthew Amesbury of the University of Exeter told IBTimes UK. The increase in growth along a long, 400-mile stretch of the peninsula suggests that climate change rather than localised factors are likely to be the cause.

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.

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.

After analyzing the core samples from 150 years ago the researchers said the peninsula has warmed in the past 50 years. The leader of the research project said that it would lead to critical changes in the landscape of the peninsula and to its biology as well.

The researchers also said that the sensitivity of moss growth rate in response to past temperature increases suggest that terrestrial ecosystems of the Antarctic Peninsula will continue to experience rapid change during future warmings.

"If this continues, and with increasing amounts of ice-free land from continued glacier retreat, the Antarctic Peninsula will be a much greener place in the future".

One of the scientist from Exeter University who took part in the study, Dr. Matt Amesbury said, "What we found were these large, dramatic changes occurring in all of our cores".

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. 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". According to Charman, it is striking to find out the kind of consistency in reports from different sites. In the Arctic, there's now so much plant growth that some scientists are hoping it will at least partially offset the loss of carbon from thawing permafrost beneath those plants.

The scientists say their data shows soils and plants will change dramatically even with only limited further warming.

"If the temperatures are below 0C, it doesn't matter if they change by 1 or 2 degrees, because all the water is still locked away as ice", she says.

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