Antarctica Plant Life Gets Boost - from Climate Change

The Arctic is warming the fastest, but Antarctica is not far behind, with annual temperatures gaining nearly one degree Fahrenheit (half degree Celsius) each decade since the 1950s.

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 authors noted that the now observed moss growth changes are probably just the beginning.

The scientists analyzed data for the last 150 years and found evidence of points in time in the last 50 years after which biological activity increased.

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"This is another indicator that Antarctica is moving backward in geologic time - which makes sense, considering atmospheric Carbon dioxide levels have already risen to levels that the hasn't seen since the Pliocene, 3 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet was smaller, and sea-levels were higher", said Rob DeConto, a glaciologist at the University of MA who was not involved in the study, according to The Washington Post. The Antarctic Peninsula has plant life on only 0.3 percent of its area.

In the new study, the researchers added an additional three sites and five cores to their earlier sample.

A study published today in the journal Current Biology examined moss found along the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Weather records mostly began in the 1950s, but biological records preserved in moss bank cores can provide a longer-term context about climate change. Scientists believe that because over time the level of the surface of Antarctica relative to the sea decreases, the temperature of the air above the continent will grow faster than at present. Recent studies of the Antarctic continent have revealed some seriously lovely changes, but as the result of pretty devastating melting from global warming.

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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", said Matt Amesbury, a coauthor of the report and paleoclimate scientist at University of Exeter, in a press release. Although plant life is still very scarce in Antarctica, the sediments in the cores offer scientists a way to see how plant life developed and adapted to our planet's changing conditions.

There's more to come, the researchers said.

" The sensitivity of foam growth to the rise in temperature in the past suggests that adjustment of ecosystems will occur rapidly with the current global warming, which will result in upheavals in the biology and landscape of this ecosystem".

Study leader Dr Matthew Amesbury said direct climate records for the Antarctic Peninsula only went back around 50 years, whereas the moss cores provided a record that went back several thousand years. "We could see the Antarctic becoming more and more green as has already been observed in the Arctic", he said.

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