Global Warming Turns Antarctica Green And It Is Horrifying

Lena Tucker
May 20, 2017

"Temperature increases over roughly the past half century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region", said co-author Matt Amesbury, of the University of Exeter, adding that if this trend continued, then the peninsula would be a much greener place than it is today.

The research team analyzed data and records from the past 150 years and noted the points in time when plant life experienced sudden growth spurts and that they coincided with a rise in the region's temperature.

Amesbury said that made them "a record of changes over time".

The study was the first to look at a broad section of the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches for more than 1,000 kilometres. By studying those well-preserved layers from the past 150 years, researchers discovered that the moss is now growing more than 3 millimeters a year, compared with a previously slower pace of less than a single millimeter a year, the scientists report in Current Biology.

"The benefits of our work and our sites that we've been able to study is that we can make conclusions about a wide area", Dr Amesbury said.

The researchers found that two species of moss that used to grow less than a millimetre per year now grow over three millimetres per year on average.

"On average, in terms of the growth rate of moss before and after 1950, there has been a four to five-fold increase in average growth rates".

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.

Plant life on Antarctica is scarce, existing on only 0.3% of the continent, but moss, well preserved in chilly sediments, offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes.

Antarctica is no longer a pristine white landscape.

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

Researchers in Antarctica say that the region is not only getting warmer but also greener. 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.

"Atmospheric CO2 levels have already risen to a level which the planet has not seen since the Pliocene, i.e. more than three million years old when Antarctic ice sheets were smaller and sea level was higher", - said the specialist in study of the ice Rob Deconto from the University of MA.

The results suggest that even modest future warming could lead to further, rapid changes in Antarctica's ecosystems.

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