Biologists have found that parts of Antarctica are greening as climate change warms the southern continent. They say that their findings parallel the effects seen in the Arctic, which is experiencing an increase in plant cover due to a warming climate.
Published in the journal Current Biology, the researchers found some worrying trends in Antarctica. As the temperature slowly rises, it is making the conditions for plant growth more favorable, particularly in the case of moss cover, which has increased significantly. As the heat is only expected to go up and up, this effect is predicted to increase in step, radically altering the ecosystem, soil, and environment of Antarctica.
“Temperature increases over roughly the past half century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region,” said Dr Matt Amesbury, from the University of Exeter. The warmer temperatures have been making the cold, arid, rocky environment of the Antarctic Peninsula more and more hospitable to plants over the last half century.
Meaningful climate records taken in Antarctica, such as temperature and precipitation, only date back as far the 1950s, but core sampling data on the plant life goes back at least 150 years. This has given the biologists studying the changes on the continent a good picture as to how the moss community is shifting in the Antarctic Peninsula as a result of the warming temperatures.
While some regions of ice have seen their overall extent increase in area, the warming of Antarctica, the increase in precipitation, wind strength, and now the greening are all well documented and verified. They are all also a result of climate change. “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,” explains Dr Amesbury.
Antarctica holds the record for the coldest, windiest, and driest place on Earth. As a result, despite being 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles) in size, only 0.3 percent of the continent supports plant life. Yet what the research found was that even slight increases in the temperature of Antarctica will lead to rapid changes in the plant cover, which inevitably will alter the ecosystem, biology, and landscape of this remote, and seemingly untouched, region.