There are no trees on the frozen continent and only two species of flowering plant Antarctic hairgrass and Antarctic pearlwort, that grow on the western peninsula and surrounding islands.A team of UK and Australian scientists has found that the hairgrass has spread over the last 50 years due to global warming.
Dr Paul Hill, of Bangor University scientist, said areas of Antarctica are becoming greener.“We think of the Antarctic as a land of snow and ice. But, in summer on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the islands surrounding the frozen centre of the continent, the snow melts and many areas become green with mosses and two species of native flowering plant. Recently, as global temperatures have increased, and Antarctic summers have become longer and warmer, one of these flowering plants, Antarctic Hairgrass has become increasingly widespread.”
The study, published in Nature, found that the hairgrass is able to take advantage of the nitrogen produced when soil warms up and decomposes.This super efficient process, that enables the hairgrass to grow over the brief Antarctic summer, could help to develop new fertilisers to help plants grow as the world runs out of industrial nitrogen produced with oil.
In a separate study a team from Leeds University has been collecting stones across Antarctica to understand how the ice sheet has moved in the past in order to understand how climate change may affect the continent in future.An opinion piece in this week’s issue of Nature called for a system of carbon labelling to be introduced so that customers can make environmentally friendly choices.
The paper by Michigan State University said products should display the amount of carbon used in manufacturing in the same way that food currently shows nutritional information.It comes as the UK Department for the Environment launches an online tool to help businesses reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to the risks of climate change like flooding.