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ICE WORLD
Antarctica's high elevations explains the continent's slower rate of warming
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) May 18, 2017


Antarctica is greening due to global warming
Miami (AFP) May 18, 2017 - Plant life is growing on Antarctica like never before in modern times, fueled by global warming which is melting ice and transforming the landscape from white to green, researchers said Thursday.

Scientists studying moss in an area spanning 400 miles (640 kilometers) have found a sharp increase in growth over the past 50 years, said the report in the journal Current Biology.

Plant life exists on only about 0.3 percent of Antarctica.

"Temperature increases over roughly the past half century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region," said co-author Matt Amesbury, of the University of Exeter.

"If this continues, and with increasing amounts of ice-free land from continued glacier retreat, the Antarctic Peninsula will be a much greener place in the future."

Five moss cores -- or column-like samples drilled from the Earth -- showed evidence of what scientists called "changepoints," or points in time after which biological activity clearly increased.

Areas sampled included three Antarctic islands -- Elephant Island, Ardley Island, and Green Island -- where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow, said the report.

"This gives us a much clearer idea of the scale over which these changes are occurring," said Amesbury.

"Previously, we had only identified such a response in a single location at the far south of the Antarctic Peninsula, but now we know that moss banks are responding to recent climate change across the whole of the Peninsula."

The polar regions are warming more rapidly than the rest of the Earth, as greenhouse gasses from fossil fuel burning build up in the atmosphere and trap heat.

The Arctic is warming the fastest, but Antarctica is not far behind, with annual temperatures gaining almost one degree Fahrenheit (half degree Celsius) each decade since the 1950s.

"The sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region," said researcher Dan Charman, a professor at Exeter.

"In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic."

Researchers on the project also came from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey.

Antarctica continues to warm much more slowly than the Arctic, and scientists have struggled to come up with an explanation for the disparity. A new study, however, suggests the continent's high elevations explain its delayed warming.

"On average, warming for the entire Antarctic continent has been much slower than Arctic warming so far," Marc Salzmann, a researcher at the University of Leipzig's Institute for Meteorology in Germany, said in a news release. "Moreover, climate models suggest that, by the end of this century, Antarctica will have warmed less compared to the Arctic."

In recent decades, the Arctic has warmed considerably more than the rest of the planet. Researchers suggests unique atmospheric dynamics at the poles, as well as the loss of sea ice, explained the region's rising temperatures.

But these explanations didn't fully account for the discrepancy between polar warming rates.

"I wondered why some of the reasons to explain Arctic warming have not yet caused strongly amplified warming in all of Antarctica as well," Salzmann said. "I thought that land height could be a game changer that might help explain why the Arctic has thus far warmed faster than Antarctica."

Unlike the Arctic, which is a polar ice cap, Antarctica is a continent composed of land. Atop its bedrock are thick slabs of ice, boosting its elevation. The continent is also home to tall mountains.

Salzmann ran computer models to see how the continent's climate would respond to a doubling of CO2 concentrations. He repeated the simulation using a "flat-Antarctica" model, decreasing land height by a meter across the entirety of the continent.

As detailed in the journal Earth System Dynamics, the flat-Antarctica world responded to the rise in CO2 levels with more aggressive warming. Flattening the southern continent altered the region's atmospheric dynamics, shifting the way heat is transferred from the equator to the poles.

"Assuming a flat Antarctica allows for more transport of warm air from lower latitudes," Salzmann said. "This is consistent with the existing view that when the altitude of the ice is lowered, it becomes more prone to melting."

Researchers suggest a flatter Antarctica will soon be a reality. As the continent's glaciers melt and thin, it's land heights will decrease. If Salzmann's model is correct, lower land heights will yield additional warming.

ICE WORLD
Antarctica is greening due to global warming
Miami (AFP) May 18, 2017
Plant life is growing on Antarctica like never before in modern times, fueled by global warming which is melting ice and transforming the landscape from white to green, researchers said Thursday. Scientists studying moss in an area spanning 400 miles (640 kilometers) have found a sharp increase in growth over the past 50 years, said the report in the journal Current Biology. Plant life e ... read more

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