Study reveals climate change is turning Antarctica green

Antarctic moss banks

Antarctic moss banks

Antarctica may conjure up an image of a pristine white landscape, but researchers say climate change is turning the continent green.

"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.

"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.

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.

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. 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.

Previous studies have looked at the change in moss banks, but either only looked at one area of the peninsula or didn't look at change over a continuous timeframe, Amesbury said.

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"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", he said in a university press release on Thursday.

The researchers from the University of Exeter, University of Cambridge and British Antarctic Survey tested five moss cores drilled from three different sites in the region spanning about 400 miles. However, in parts of the peninsula, the Antarctic mosses have grown on the frozen ground that usually thaws only partly during summers. This study, called "Widespread biological response to rapid warming on the Antarctic Peninsula", was published in the journal Current Biology. "We could see the Antarctic becoming more and more green as has already been observed in the Arctic", he said.

While weather records began in the 1950s, the moss bank presents biological records that can provide scientists a clear timeline of the effects of climate change.

The researchers say they'll continue to examine core records stretching back in time over thousands of years. Scientists once thought tiny marine plants known as phytoplankton could not thrive under sea ice in the frigid Arctic ocean.

"Even these relatively remote ecosystems show a outcome of anthropogenic climate change", said one of the researchers, Matthew Amesbury. But that doesn't disprove the growing understanding of human-caused climate change, said Marc Salzmann, a researcher at the University of Leipzig in Germany.

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