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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs