Environment

Climate change is increasingly turning Antarctica green

Climate change is increasingly...
This picture, taken on Antarctica's Green Island, is a bit greener than most people would picture the icy continent, but a new study shows that plant life is increasing in response to warmer temperatures
This picture, taken on Antarctica's Green Island, is a bit greener than most people would picture the icy continent, but a new study shows that plant life is increasing in response to warmer temperatures
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The view from the top of the hill on Green Island, Antarctica, with the researchers' field camp visible below
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The view from the top of the hill on Green Island, Antarctica, with the researchers' field camp visible below
Researchers from the University of Exeter have taken core samples from moss banks in Antarctica, such as this one on Green Island, and found that biological activity has ramped up over the last 50 years
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Researchers from the University of Exeter have taken core samples from moss banks in Antarctica, such as this one on Green Island, and found that biological activity has ramped up over the last 50 years
This picture, taken on Antarctica's Green Island, is a bit greener than most people would picture the icy continent, but a new study shows that plant life is increasing in response to warmer temperatures
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This picture, taken on Antarctica's Green Island, is a bit greener than most people would picture the icy continent, but a new study shows that plant life is increasing in response to warmer temperatures

The mental picture that most of us have of Antarctica is a frozen wasteland, white as far as the eye can see. But according to a new study that might not be the case in the future, as the continent is increasingly turning green in response to rising temperatures. Researchers from the University of Exeter have taken core samples from moss banks along the Antarctic Peninsula, and found that biological activity has ramped up massively over the last 50 years or so.

The study follows up on the team's previous work in 2013, which found that the steady warming of the region is resulting in changes to the ecology that are largely unprecedented. But while that study focused on just the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula, this time around the team took samples from a wider range of sites, and found worryingly consistent results each time.

"This gives us a much clearer idea of the scale over which these changes are occurring," says Matthew Amesbury, lead author of the study. "Previously, we had only identified such a response in a single location at the far south of the Antarctic Peninsula, but now we know that moss banks are responding to recent climate change across the whole of the Peninsula."

With the average annual temperatures in the region increasing by about 0.5° C (0.9° F) every decade since the 1950s, the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet. To study just what effect that might be having on the scant plant life that calls the continent home, the Exeter team took core samples of moss banks. With the deeper sections dating back as far as 150 years ago, these samples paint a detailed picture of the biological activity over that time.

Researchers from the University of Exeter have taken core samples from moss banks in Antarctica, such as this one on Green Island, and found that biological activity has ramped up over the last 50 years
Researchers from the University of Exeter have taken core samples from moss banks in Antarctica, such as this one on Green Island, and found that biological activity has ramped up over the last 50 years

As seen in the earlier study, that biological activity has increased rapidly over the last 50 years. But this time, five samples were taken from three sites – Elephant Island, Ardley Island and Green Island – which are 600 km (373 miles) apart. Even at that distance, the samples showed remarkably consistent results, indicating that these changes apply to a much wider area than previously thought.

"Temperature increases over roughly the past half century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region, with rapid increases in growth rates and microbial activity," says Dan Charman, lead researcher on the study. "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."

In future, the team plans to extend their study of the moss cores back thousands of years, to get a longer-term picture of the ecology of Antarctica that dates back to before human activity started impacting the climate.

The research was published in the journal Current Biology.

Source: University of Exeter via EurekAlert

13 comments
EUbrainwashing
I know they are poles apart but; there is a probable reason why Greenland is called Greenland which would be that it, at some point not so long ago, had a fair bit of green about the place. And that should not be too much of a surprise because climate is a changeable system. You know: the Romans grew grape vines against Hadrian's Wall and the Elizabethans held winter fairs on the River Thames which froze thick and solid every winter for example. And over the last two hundred years, due to natural cyclic climate variations, there was a series of measured advance and fall back in the ice cover - the like of which was not being recorded for Antarctica. My goodness me, surprise surprise! A scientist is doing non commercial work (that is work not being paid for by investors looking to grow their knowledge, but instead being paid, we can reasonably guess, directly or indirectly, by tax-payer money - money taken at the point of a gun) and that scientist now wants to secure the funding for the next raft of work too, we can guess. Well how successful will a scientist be if he does not include the 'human activity started impacting the climate' spin to the job. Would his tax gathering political masters give him his little bit of spoils from their table if his work was not a net benefit to their aim: to make the world pay 'carbon taxes'. Stuff the scientific process, just get a few like minded tax-spoil hunters to 'peer review' the inevitable conclusion and the job's a good one - easy money.
watersworm
Good news for the inhabitants of Pacific corall little atolls disapearing due to the rise of the sea ! Incindently, Antartic Peninsula seems to be the only 2 or 3% of total Antartica warming.
piperTom
The quote has the site at "the far south of the Antarctic Peninsula". This peninsula has nowhere to go but north, so the far south of it will be on the main continent, no?
NevilleLehmann
But NASA and the Australian scientists have told us for thirty years that Antarctica is growing by thousands of square kilometres a years. And every record I have seen shows that Antarctica is getting colder.
Bob
How come I never read articles about what a good thing global warming may be? More land to cultivate at higher and lower latitudes, rain returning to desert areas and ports moving farther inland. Most commercial buildings aren't designed to last more than 40 years anyway so tearing them down and moving to a new location is standard procedure. The older dock areas of many of our port cities are slums already. People will have to move but they already do that anyway. Everything will adapt with time. The biggest problem will be governments seizing power, property and money far in excess of what is needed.
KarJam
So far only the morons have commented...time to remedy the situation. The problem with today's global warming and climate change is the SPEED with which it is happening. Yes, the Earth has been warmer and colder, and climate does change due to natural cycles, but it does not happen with the rapidity of human caused climate change. Plants and animals do not evolve quickly enough to respond to this rate of change. The result is a massive loss of species which will cause many ecological food chains to collapse in different regions. The economic cost to humans is also going to be very high as much of our infrastructure is designed to last beyond '40 years' and populations are higher along ocean shores. I don't have time to educate you more on this matter at this time. Please pull your heads out of the Fox News-hole and start reading more science articles.
Dan Pangburn
The observation that CO2 is a ghg (greenhouse gas) is a shallow penetration of the science. Delve deeper into the science and discover that CO2 does not now, has never had and will never have a significant effect on climate. Here is why. 1) Essentially all absorbed outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) energy is thermalized (i.e. shared with surrounding molecules). 2) Thermalized energy carries no identity of the molecule that absorbed it. 3) Emission from a gas is quantized and depends on the energy of individual molecules. 4) This energy is determined probabilistically according to the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution. 5) The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution favors lower energy (longer wavelength) photons. 6) Water vapor exhibits many (170+) of these longer wavelength bands. 7) The Maxwell-Boltzmann energy distribution in atmospheric gas molecules effectively shifts the OLR energy absorbed by CO2 molecules to the lower energy absorb/emit bands of water vapor. The ‘notches’ in top-of-atmosphere measurements over temperate zones demonstrate the validity of this assessment. 8) As altitude increases (to about 10 km) the temperature declines, magnifying the effect. The only thing countering the temperature decline that would otherwise be occurring is the increasing trend in water vapor. (‘Otherwise’ results from declining net effect of ocean cycles since 2005 and declining solar activity which has been declining since 2014 and dropped below 'breakeven' in early 2016). Average global atmospheric water vapor has been measured and reported by NASA/RSS since 1988 and shows an uptrend of 1.5% per decade. WV has increased about 8% since the more rapid increase began in about 1960. This is more than 2.5 times the expected rate from temperature increase alone (i.e. feedback). Further discussion of this with graphs and links to source data are at http://globalclimatedrivers2.blogspot.com which also identifies the factors which do cause climate change (98% match 1895-2016). The warmer temperature is welcome but the added WV increases the risk of flooding. IMO all rainwater retaining systems (dams, dykes, etc.) should be upgraded from 100 yr floods to 10,000 yr floods.
Robert in Vancouver
It used to be warm enough to grow grapes in Greenland, then we had an ice age, and now we have been slowly warming our way back to a normal temperature. Changes in the climate are simply beyond our control, any logical person can see that. But gov't realized they can tax us for uncontrollable changes to the climate, so we will pay carbon taxes forever because the climate will always keep changing. And gov't goes thru money like shitte thru a goose.
RolandReagan
Eric the Red named gave Greenland it's name to attract settlers, he also gave Iceland it's name to discourage settlers. The greening of the Antarctica is due to increased CO2 not "climate change."
Stephen N Russell
Boost Eco tourism then?? Set up Perm Hotel camps for guests & for science teams alone. More can be done. Send in more ships, or survey by airship.