News / Science & Technology

Antarctica Shows Unprecedented Ecological Change

Researchers sampled this location on the northwest coast of Alexander Island on the Antarctic Peninsula to discover unprecedented growth rates in the vegetation. (British Antarctic Survey)
Researchers sampled this location on the northwest coast of Alexander Island on the Antarctic Peninsula to discover unprecedented growth rates in the vegetation. (British Antarctic Survey)
Rosanne Skirble
The rugged mountain peninsula that juts from the west coast of Antarctica is one of most rapidly warming places on the planet. 

With increases as much as 3 degrees Celsius, the once stable sea ice is melting, setting in motion unprecedented ecological changed reported this week in Cell Biology.

Lead author Jessica Royles studies moss in the snow-free zones of the Antarctic Peninsula. She’s a biologist with Cambridge University and the British Antarctic Survey, the organization charged with Britain’s scientific work in Antarctica. 

“The moss is really the dominant plant growing in this area, and it accumulates in these moss banks from when the moss starts growing up to the present day," she said, "so it can provide a really good record of changes in the past that have been preserved in the moss.”

  • Antarctica is the southernmost continent on Earth. The Antarctic Peninsula on the west coast is warming at unprecedented rates. (NASA map Robert Simmon)
  • British Antarctic Survey scientists Dominic Hodson and Jessica Royles work with core sampling equipment on a high elevation moss bank on Elephant Island, South Shetland Islands. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Core head being carefully removed from a moss bank on Elephant Island, South Shetland Islands. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Frozen moss core over 500 years old removed from core head, Elephant Island, South Shetland Islands. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Low-lying moss growth on Ardley Island, South Shetland Islands makes the most of the occasional sunny days after the snow cover has melted. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Deep exposed moss bank, Elephant Island , South Shetland Islands built up over thousands of years, preserves information about the environment at the time of growth. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • The moss banks on Green Island provide a vivid green splash amidst the surrounding ice caps, glaciers and icebergs. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Researchers on Green Island, Berthelot Islands, camped below the moss have blue-eyed cormorants and the calving icebergs just offshore as their only companions. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Close up of Polytrichum strictum growing on a moss bank on Green Island, Berthelot Islands 2013. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Barrientos Island, South Shetland, with a thin covering of moss and algae in 2012, that a year later was covered with snow with barely any green growth. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)
  • Campsite on Barrientos Island, South Shetland Islands, sharing beach with penguin colony, 2012. (Dan Charman/Matt Amesbury)


Biologist Jessica Royles on Antarctica ecological changes
Biologist Jessica Royles on Antarctica ecological changes i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The scientists extracted moss cores from this remote and largely inaccessible region and calculated growth rates,  examined the conditions for growth and described how the microbial populations have changed.

“What we found is that (the moss) started growing around the year 1860. And it has been growing and accumulating throughout the period up to the present day," Royles said. "But it’s around 1960, the growth rate really rapidly increased, up to a maximum of between five and six millimeters a year.”  

Microbes in the moss also multiplied rapidly over the same time frame. Royles attributes the ecological change to warmer temperatures, increased rainfall and stronger winds. 

“It’s showing us that really that both the plants and the microbes are really very sensitive to the climate changes that have happened over the last 50 years and that over the time that this moss bank has been growing that those changes are unprecedented.”
This peat moss formation (Polytrichum strictum) was found in ice-free patches on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: British Antarctic Survey)This peat moss formation (Polytrichum strictum) was found in ice-free patches on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: British Antarctic Survey)
x
This peat moss formation (Polytrichum strictum) was found in ice-free patches on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: British Antarctic Survey)
This peat moss formation (Polytrichum strictum) was found in ice-free patches on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: British Antarctic Survey)

Farther north on the Antarctic Peninsula, Royles continues her analysis of moss banks that date back more than 5,000 years.

“So we can now use those moss banks as paleo-archives of past changes in the environment and how they might have occurred, and every little bit of understanding of how those physical climate changes [might have occurred] and the biological responses to that adds to our understanding of our climate system.”       

Royles says a scenario in which the polar flora and fauna track the projected warmer temperatures would fundamentally change the ecology and appearance of Antarctica.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: bob from: Canada
August 31, 2013 7:58 PM
Next you will be telling me that Al Gore and his cronies are lying??

gotta love Corporate America..

Time to BUILD GUILLOTINES

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid