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AKIPRESS.COM - Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent’s northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet, Washington Post reported.
Amid the warming of the last 50 years, the scientists found two different species of mosses undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than a millimeter per year now growing over 3 millimeters per year on average.
“People will think of Antarctica quite rightly as a very icy place, but our work shows that parts of it are green, and are likely to be getting greener,” said Matthew Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and lead author of the new study. “Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human induced climate change.”
The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with the University of Cambridge, the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Durham.
Less than 1 percent of present-day Antarctica features plant life. But in parts of the peninsula, Antarctic mosses grow on frozen ground that partly thaws in the summer — when only about the first foot of soil ever thaws.
The surface mosses build up a thin layer in the summer, then freeze over in winter. As layer builds on top of layer, older mosses subside below the frozen ground, where they are remarkably well preserved due to the temperatures.
Amesbury said that made them “a record of changes over time.”
Soil samples from a 400-mile area along the northern part of the Antarctic peninsula found dramatic changes in growth patterns going back 150 years.
The Antarctic peninsula has been a site of rapid warming, with more days a year where temperatures rise above freezing. The consequence, the study found, was a four- to five-fold increase in the amount of moss growth in the most recent part of the record.