Climate change is making Antarctica greener

Antarctica's Green Island moss bank with icebergs in the background. |         Matt Amesbury

"This is linking into other processes that are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula at the moment, particularly things like glacier retreat which are freeing up new areas of ice-free land - and the mosses particularly are very effective colonisers of those new areas", he added.

Scientists have found a sharp increase in moss growth on Antarctica over the past 50 years. Now, the same research group has confirmed that those striking changes in the Antarctic are widespread, occurring all across the Peninsula.

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 study is the result of combined efforts of researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Exeter, and the British Antarctic Survey who were focused on studying Antarctica's past climate using moss banks instead of ice cores.

"Under future warming scenarios, there is likely to be a greening of the Antarctic Peninsula, both in terms of further increases in growth rates and also a likely expansion of the extent of these moss growths", Amesbury said.

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"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 looked at 150 years of data and samples of the moss from around the peninsula. Not only that, however, the rate of growth is now four to five times higher than it was prior to 1950.

The study says the results suggest Antarctica's ecosystems will "alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region".

'In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic.

Less than 1 percent of present-day Antarctica features plant life.

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Antarctica is no longer a pristine white landscape. The findings appear in Current Biology on May 18.

Researchers say global warming has already transformed the Arctic into a "new state" and that further change is inevitable in the near future.

This offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes. Emblematic region, "predicted Professor Dan Charman, director of the research project".

The researchers, who were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), now plan to examine core records dating back over thousands of years to test how much climate change affected ecosystems before human activity started causing global warming.

According to Amesbury, even though people think of Antarctica as an extremely icy place, the research reveals that parts of the peninsula are green.

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