Moss is turning Antarctica's icy landscape green

Green Island moss bank with icebergs. SWNSMore

Antarctica's pristine whiteness could soon be a thing of the past as climate change is giving rise to a moss that is changing the continent's color, according to a new study.

Matthew Amesbury, the lead author of the study from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom said that the study shows striking changes in the ecology of the peninsula, likely caused by warming temperatures.

"Because we have got this wide transect now and all of the [sites examined] are showing the same response, consistently over that 1,000km transect, that makes us much more confident that it is a response to temperature change", said Amesbury. "The Antarctic Peninsula is often thought of as a very remote and possibly even untouched region, but this clearly shows that the effects of climate change are felt here".

Plant life only exists on about 0.3 per cent of Antarctica, but the findings provide one way of measuring the extent and effects of warming on the continent.

They looked at 150 years' worth of data and found clear "changepoints" in the last 50 years that showed the increase of moss cover.

The team also used models to explore what the future might hold for the continent, taking into account recent research that has suggested that the peninsula has cooled, albeit temporarily, in recent years as a result of changes in wind patterns.

" 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".

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The research team analyzed data and records from the past 150 years and noted the points in time when plant life experienced sudden growth spurts and that they coincided with a rise in the region's temperature. Matt Amesbury from the University of Exeter believes the Antarctic Peninsula will be much greener in the future if the increase in the quantity of moss continues with "increasing amounts of ice-free land from continued glacier retreat".

The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with Cambridge University, the British Antarctic Survey, and the University of Durham.

A bank of moss on the appropriately named Green Island in the Antarctic.

"In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic". Amesbury noted that the consistency of changes in the moss samples taken from different parts of the Peninsula was particularly striking.

"Assuming a flat Antarctica allows for more transport of warm air from lower attitudes", he said.

Scientists have studied the region with an area of 640 square miles and noticed a significant biological changes.

The researchers say they'll continue to examine core records stretching back in time over thousands of years.

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