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article imageAntarctica not only getting warmer, it's also getting greener

By Karen Graham     May 20, 2017 in Environment
Our perception of Antarctica is beginning to change, especially as the climate continues to warm. The Antarctica we have always seen as a snowy, frigid, and inhospitable place is being transformed dramatically.
For over three million years, our southernmost continent has remained a frozen expanse of snow and ice, unforgiving and inhospitable to everyone except the most daring and courageous of the world's explorers.
But today, the Antarctic Peninsula that juts out toward South America is one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet, reports Australia's ABC.net. Scientists from the UK have been studying moss core samples along the eastern side of the peninsula, compiling a unique record of how temperature increases over the last 150 years have affected plant growth.
Regional Map of the Antarctic Peninsula Showing Moss Bank Sites and Meteorological Records of Recent...
Regional Map of the Antarctic Peninsula Showing Moss Bank Sites and Meteorological Records of Recent Mean Annual Temperature. Black dots are new locations used in this analysis; gray dot is previously published [14]; white dots are meteorological records, with decadal trends.
Current Biology
The study; Widespread Biological Response to Rapid Warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, was published in the online journal Current Biology on May 18, 2017. It is the first Peninsula-wide assessment of biological sensitivity to recent warming in Antarctica.
The researchers say that looking at the landscape on the peninsula is like looking back in time, to another epoch when the continent was actually green. Mats of vibrant green moss are rapidly spreading across the thawed and exposed soils, literally transforming what was once barren space into a place of lush green.
On the left is the Antarctic hairgrass and on the right is a plant species from the order Caryophyll...
On the left is the Antarctic hairgrass and on the right is a plant species from the order Caryophyllales
University of Wisconsin
"We can't measure temperature or any other aspect of climate directly in these moss banks, but we can measure things that respond to temperature," said Dr. Matt Amesbury, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Exeter. And that is exactly what the scientists were able to accomplish.
The vertical growth rate of the moss was carefully measured, along with how much mass the moss accumulated over time. One measurement was particularly important - Microbial activity. All of these measurements give scientists a picture of how the moss is responding to changes in temperature and water availability.
Collecting prized moss core in 2013. The study has taken a number of years in order to get accurate ...
Collecting prized moss core in 2013. The study has taken a number of years in order to get accurate data.
University of Exeter
The study revealed that as the temperature has increased in the last 50 years, so too, has the moss been growing more. Microbial activity has also increased along with the warming temperatures. "At the very least, we're getting a peek at Antarctica's future, which like its past was green and filled with plant-life," reports the Washington Post.
This is another indicator that Antarctica is moving backward in geologic time — which makes sense, considering atmospheric CO2 levels have already risen to levels that the planet hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, 3 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet was smaller, and sea levels were higher,” said Rob DeConto, a glaciologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The southernmost known moss bank in the world! At Lazarev Bay  Alexander Island  Antarctic Peninsula...
The southernmost known moss bank in the world! At Lazarev Bay, Alexander Island, Antarctic Peninsula.
University of Exeter
While envisioning an Antarctica with grasses, trees and shrubs might be amazing, Mother Nature News reminds us that it just might not be a good thing. They point out that climate change can be an ambiguous beast.
“These changes, combined with increased ice-free land areas from glacier retreat, will drive large-scale alteration to the biological functioning, appearance, and landscape of the [Antarctic peninsula] over the rest of the 21st century and beyond,” wrote the authors of the study.
More about Antarctica, microbial, Landscape, Climate change, Carbon dioxide
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