The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the world’s most rapidly warming regions; annual temperatures there have increased by up to 0.56°C per decade since the 1950s. In some areas of the peninsula, ice-free summers allow plants such as mosses to grow. A team led by Jessica Royles of the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge investigated a moss bank that has been slowly growing at the top surface and accumulating peat material since it first established in about 1860.
The team analysed core samples from the moss bank, using the results to characterise the growth and activity of the moss and the microbes that inhabit it over time. They found that growth rates and microbial productivity have risen rapidly since the 1960s – in a manner that’s both unprecedented in the past 150 years and consistent with recent climate change.
‘The synchronicity of the changes between the various independent measurements made us confident that we were observing a real, important effect, consistent with projections made for polar regions,’ Amesbury said. ‘The rapid increase in the amoebal growth rate showed that higher temperatures, and perhaps altered precipitation, have had an impact on an entire microbial community.’
This story was published in the October 2013 edition of Geographical Magazine