Climate Change Fueling Rapid Greening of Antarctic Peninsula

One of the coldest areas in the world is getting greener, and researchers say it’s because of global warming.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England who first studied the increase of moss and microbes in the Antarctic Peninsula in 2013, now say the greening of the region is widespread.

“This gives us a much clearer idea of the scale over which these changes are occurring,” says lead author Matthew Amesbury of the University of Exeter.

“Previously, we had only identified such a response in a single location at the far south of the Antarctic Peninsula, but now we know that moss banks are responding to recent climate change across the whole of the Peninsula.”

The peninsula, researchers say, is one of the more rapidly warming area in the world, adding that temperatures have risen by about a half-degree Celsius each decade since the 1950s.

For their study, researchers looked at five more core samples from three areas of moss banks over 150 years old. The new samples included three Antarctic Islands off the peninsula.

The cores, researchers say, showed “increased biological activity” over the past 50 years as the peninsula warmed. Researchers say their findings show “fundamental and widespread change,” and that the change was “striking.”

The changes are likely to continue.

“Temperature increases over roughly the past half-century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region, with rapid increases in growth rates and microbial activity,” says Dan Charman, who led the research. “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.”

The next step for researchers is to look back even further in history to see how climate change affected the region before humans made an impact.

The findings appeared in Current Biology on May 18.

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