Images of a white, barren continent could need updating as climate change brings more plants to Antarctica’s formerly frozen shores.
An international report issued on Tuesday has found that winter temperatures in west Antarctica have increased by as much as five degrees Celsius – and that allows cushion plants and grasses to thrive.
“We’re seeing more plant growth,” Dr Colin Summerhayes, executive director of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), told AAP.
“It’s getting a bit greener.”
The SCAR report found warm temperatures brought summer rain instead of snow to western Antarctica – that’s the bit near South America – so more rock and soil was exposed to the sky and to plants. And thanks to human visitors, ‘alien’ species like flies and bacteria were also increasing.
Dr Summerhayes, speaking from Cambridge University in the UK, said part of Antarctica was starting to look like Macquarie Island.
But scientists and tourists heading to the South Pole shouldn’t leave behind their snow shoes just yet.
Antarctica’s climate is a mixed bag, the report found. Part of the continent is warming up, but other areas are stable or cooling – which has prompted some to question whether climate change is actually happening.
The report’s authors said its findings were consistent with human-induced climate change.
The report found there has been little change in temperature over most of Antarctica, and sea ice has increased by 10 percent in the last 30 years.
But sea ice doesn’t affect sea levels – it’s the ice which sits on land that counts. And Antarctica’s land ice, in the form of ice shelves and glaciers, is melting.
Dr Summerhayes said some western Antarctic glaciers were retreating 10 metres a day.
“Icebergs are spinning off the end of that glacier much faster than they ever did, and they are melting and contributing to sea level rise,” he said of the Amundsen glacier.
Be careful of selective hearing with regard to Global Warming. Like the blind men and the elephant, the truth requires stepping back and looking at all of the parts.