DATE: September 25, 2018
SNIP: Emerging from the ice for a brief growing season every Antarctic summer, the lush green mosses of East Antarctica are finally succumbing to climate change.
That is according to a study of the small, ancient and hardy plants – carried out over more than a decade.
This revealed that vegetation in East Antarctica is changing rapidly in response to a drying climate.
The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“Visiting Antarctica, you expect to see icy, white landscapes,” said lead scientist Prof Sharon Robinson from the University of Wollongong, in Australia. “But in some areas there are lush, green moss beds that emerge from under the snow for a growing period of maybe six weeks.”
While West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula are some of the fastest warming places of the planet, East Antarctica has not yet experienced much climate warming, so the scientists did not expect to see much change in the vegetation there.
“But we were really surprised when we saw how fast it was changing,” Prof Robinson said.
The researchers say this is the first study to show that the plants in East Antarctica are being affected by climate change and ozone depletion.
“The mosses are our sentinel for the whole ecosystem.”