Scientists discovered flowering plants, mosses and algae spreading in an unprecedented way across Antarctic seas and sea ice. Photo/Ocean Wideexpedition
WASHINGTON – Scientists discovered flowering plants, mosses and algae spreading in an unprecedented way in Antarctic seas and sea ice. This dramatic change coincides with rising temperatures in the Antarctic summer.
In 2022, researchers at the University of Washington (UW) recorded the largest heat wave ever to hit Antarctica. In March, temperatures in Antarctica peaked at minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), when temperatures near the south pole rose above normal for three consecutive days of 39 degrees Celsius.
“This is the hottest temperature anomaly recorded throughout the world,” said Edward Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, an atmospheric scientist, to Kasha Patel at The Washington Post, quoted by SINDOnews from the Science Alert page, Tuesday (26/9/2023).
Some of his team working in Antarctica at the time were apparently warm enough to wear shorts and even go bare-chested in the sun. Moments like this make it clear that Antarctica is not immune to the climate crisis.
“We found that climate change over the last century amplified heat waves by 2 degrees Celsius. “While the equivalent heat wave in 2096 would be 6 degrees Celsius warmer than in 2022,” wrote Blanchard-Wrigglesworth.
That future scenario could bring temperatures in Antarctica in March near melting point, threatening the continent’s vast expanses of ice. In recent decades, warmer springs and summers have caused plants to thrive in Antarctica.
Growth rates increased by 20% or more from 2009 to 2018. These include flowering plants such as Antarctic hairgrass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearl moss (Colobanthus quitensis).
By the end of the century, some models predict there will be a threefold increase in the ice-free land in Antarctica that can grow crops. If vegetation continues to spread into these zones, researchers fear this will cause irreversible loss of biodiversity in Antarctica.
“We know that there will be thousands of square kilometers of new ice-free areas and that warmer temperatures and additional water availability will create new habitats. This doesn’t benefit other species,” explains Jasmine Lee, conservation biologist at the British Antarctic Survey.
Scientists around the world are working as quickly as possible to understand Antarctica’s past and present habitats so they can try to preserve them for the future. The study of the Antarctic heat wave was published in Geophysical Research Letters.