Antarctica 'is turning green with new plants because of global warming'

Green Island moss bank with icebergs. SWNSMore

In fact, the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the regions with the fastest warming on the planet with a temperature rise of about 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade since the 1950s.

Scientists have been studying core samples taken from moss banks established more than 150 years ago and during the new study they added three additional sites and five cores including three Antarctic islands where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow to their earlier samples.

Every site showed a significant increase in moss growth, Amesbury said, especially from 1950-80.

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.

Recent research about the rapid growth of the quantity of moss in the last 50 years reveals that there is a steady increase in the temperature on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Thanks to global warming, the remote continent of Antarctica is turning greener by the day.

"What we're also seeing concurrently with climate change are other physical processes such as glacier retreat particularly", Dr Amesbury said.

Researchers have discovered that the rapidly growing mosses on the ice in the continent are, in fact, a result of human-induced climatic change.

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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. "Certainly, Antarctica has not always been the ice place it has been now on very long timescales".

As this trend continues, Antarctica might begin to warm at a rate similar to that of the Arctic, which has warmed at a rate of about 1 degree Fahrenheit a decade over the past 30 years. He believes Antarctica will even become forested again someday as it was during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous and Eocene, when the continent was ice free.

While the prospect of more plant growth might sound like a good thing from a greenhouse gas perspective, Professor Robinson said the warming could potentially release greenhouse gases from the ancient buried moss, which has so far remained frozen.

Plant life only exists on about 0.3 percent of Antarctica, but the new findings suggested "major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region" under future warming, according to the study.

Taken together, the team say the results show that moss banks across the region are responding to warming, adding that variations in the measure of favourability for photosynthesis between sites is likely down to local differences in moisture levels.

The sensitivity of mosses' rate of growth in response to past temperature increases suggests that terrestrial ecosystems of the Antarctic Peninsula will continue to experience rapid change with future warming. The research team is now planning to study the data from thousands of years to determine how the ecosystem had been affected by climate change effects over the years.

"Antarctica is not going to become entirely green, but it will become more green than it now is", said Matt Amesbury, co-author of the research from the University of Exeter.

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