Antarctica turning green, thanks to global warming

Antarctica turning green, thanks to global warming

Antarctica turning green, thanks to global warming

A study of moss cores sampled from along the eastern side of the peninsula has provided a unique record of how temperature increases over the last 150 years have affected plant growth. "Every year they lock in information we can extract again when we take a core".

"The conclusions and the results that we've seen show the response of these moss banks to climate change have been pervasive across the whole of the region", Amesbury told CBC News in a phone interview.

Plant life now exists on about 0.3% of the Antarctic territory, but the study provides a way to measure the extent and effects of global warming.

The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with Cambridge University, the British Antarctic Survey, and the University of Durham.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England who first studied the increase of moss and microbes in the Antarctic Peninsula in 2013, now say the greening of the region is widespread.

"Their analysis clearly shows an increase in biological activity over the last fifty years".

An global team of researchers say the trend is the result of the "greenhouse effect", which is expanding plant growth on the continent.

"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", said lead author Matt Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

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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. The researchers found two types of moss that grow to three millimeters per year, although previously they were only growing a millimeter a year.

Areas sampled included three Antarctic islands - Elephant Island, Ardley Island, and Green Island - where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow, said the report.

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. 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.

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

"Assuming a flat Antarctica allows for more transport of warm air from lower attitudes", he said.

This offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes.

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

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