Antarctica is getting greener due to climate change, scientists say

Green Island moss bank with icebergs. SWNSMore

Green Island moss bank with icebergs. SWNSMore

And the banks of moss that cover portions of the peninsula point to "a very widespread biological response" to climate change, said Matt Amesbury, a paleoclimatologist at Britain's University of Exeter.

Those sites include three Antarctic islands - Elephant Island, Ardley Island, and Green Island - where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow.

Scientists are now considering whether to formally adopt 1950 as the start of a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene because of the astonishing global effects that modern humans are having on the Earth. This rising temperature is having a great effect on the growth of moss in the continent's northern peninsula.

Two species of moss especially are undergoing spectacular development - they used to grow less than a millimeter per year, but now, they're growing over 3 millimeters per year on average - and they're turning Antarctica green.

"This gives us a much clearer idea of the scale over which these changes are occurring", Amesbury said in a statement.

The latest study claims the rate of moss growth is now four to five times higher than it was pre-1950.

Scientists studying banks of moss in Antarctica have found that the quantity of moss, and the rate of plant growth, has shot up in the past 50 years, suggesting the continent may have a verdant future.

"If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, Antarctica will head even further back in geologic time...perhaps the peninsula will even become forested again someday, like it was during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous and Eocene, when the continent was ice free", he said.

However the Antarctic has a long way to go before its appearance is radically transformed.

"Antarctica is not going to become entirely green, but it will become more green than it now is", study leader Dr Matthew Amesbury told The Guardian.

Previous research has shown Antarctic mosses can come back to life after lying inactive under the ice for 1,500 years.

We did say 'Go green, ' but this is really not what we had in mind.

"The common perception of Antarctica is it's a very white and icy place and on the whole that's absolutely correct", Amesbury said.

In the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula experienced rapid temperature increases, warming by about half a degree per decade.

This plant growth has been being steadily tracked over the past 50 years and reveal an unprecedented surge in new life along a 600 kilometre stretch of the Antarctica's coastline.

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

"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", said Dan Charman, who led the research in Exeter.

The team then analysed the cores, examining the top 20cm of each to allow the scientists to look back over 150 years and explore changes over time across a number of factors.

Latest News