“The results of that analysis lead us to believe there will be a future ‘greening’ of the Antarctic and a further increase in moss growth rates. “We are likely to see moss particularly colonising new areas of ice-free land created by the warmer climate … and particularly things like glacier retreat.”
However the Antarctic has a long way to go before its appearance is radically transformed. “There is 0.34 per cent of the entire Antarctic continent that is predominantly ice-free,” Dr Amesbury said.
“Whilst we are talking about a greening and our results show quite strongly there is likely to be increased moss growth in terms of the rate and spatial coverage, as a whole the Antarctic will remain a white place for a long time to come.
“But these vivid splashes of green in the ice white are something that we should be increasingly aware of.” Those who doubt global warming is already happening should take note. “The Antarctic is perhaps thought of as a very remote region, one of the last places that might be relatively untouched by humankind,” Dr Amesbury said.
“But this is, absolutely, further evidence the ecosystems in the Antarctic, particularly the Antarctic Peninsula, are responding to human-induced climate change.” Fellow research Professor Dan Charman, also from Exeter, said the changes were likely to be significant.
“The sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region,” he said.
“In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic. “Although there was variability within our data, the consistency of what we found across different sites was striking.”
The researchers, who were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), now plan to examine core records dating back over thousands of years to test how much climate change affected ecosystems before human activity started causing global warming. Source: independent