Climate Change Is Destroying East Antarctica’s Ancient Moss Beds


During Antarctica summer season, for a brief period, East Antarctica’s ancient moss beds emerge from ice and snow to grow, but now, according to a recent study, climate change is destroying them. As the climate in East Antarctica is getting drier and drier, the vegetation in that region is suffering and modifying trying to combat the global warming effect on them.

At least, that’s the conclusion of new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, which also revealed that East Antarctica is affected by ozone depletion, too.

“Visiting Antarctica, you expect to see icy, white landscapes. But, in some areas, there are lush, green moss beds that emerge from under the snow for a growing period of maybe six weeks,” said Professor Sharon Robinson from the University of Wollongong, in Australia, and the study’s leading author.

While global warming is significantly affecting West Antarctica and Antarctic Peninsula, the scientists considered East Antarctica safe from climate change. Thus, the findings of the new study come as a big surprise for many researchers.

Climate change is destroying East Antarctica’s ancient moss beds, as the region is getting drier

“But we were really surprised when we saw how fast it was changing. After a pilot study in 2000, we set up monitoring in 2003. When we returned in 2008, all these green moss beds had turned dark red, indicating they were severely stressed. It was a dramatic change. They change from green to red to grey if they get really stressed,” explained Professor Sharon Robinson.

“The red pigments are the sunscreen and drought stress protective pigments they produce to protect themselves – antioxidant and UV screening compounds. Grey means they are dying,” the researcher added.

Several years ago when the study commenced, the most of the ancient moss beds was made up of Schistidium antarctici, a species which can survive underwater for long periods. By 2013, other species took over Schistidium antarctici, and the problem is that the new ones are not resistant to water.

“The ozone hole has pulled the polar jet stream further south, increasing its strength. These winds isolate Antarctica and help to keep most of it cold as the rest of the world warms,” explained Robinson who also concluded that climate change is destroying East Antarctica’s ancient moss beds.


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