the greening of antarctica
From correspondents in London, From:AAP, December 01, 2009 11:54AM
The SCAR report, Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment, was based on work from 100 scientists in 13 countries.
ANTARCTICA is turning green.
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 today 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, said.
“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 and the explanation for the warming was the hole in the ozone layer, which has brought stronger, cooler winds.
The report found there had been little change in temperature over most of Antarctica and sea ice had increased by 10 per cent 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.
The SCAR report found that melting of the western Antarctic ice sheet would likely contribute “tens of centimetres” to a global sea level rise of up to 1.4m by 2100, which is a greater rise than UN scientists have predicted.
Dr Summerhayes said the ozone layer was tipped to close later this century – good news for Aussie beachgoers who may escape skin cancer, but bad news for Antarctic penguins because warming would accelerate.