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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs