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Climate change stunting growth of century-old Antarctic moss shoots
Date:11/29/2011

One hundred years ago, two teams of explorers raced to be the first to reach the South Pole. Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911.

Thirty-three days later on 17 January 1912 the Terra Nova Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott arrived at the Pole in second place. At the same time in East Antarctica, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Douglas Mawson was searching for the South Magnetic Pole.

On their expeditions for King and country, Scott and Mawson carried out some of the first scientific studies in Antarctica. Scott's ill-fated expedition found fossils of Gondwanaland trees showing that Antarctica was once covered in lush forests.

Even today, we tend to think of Antarctica as the last untouched wilderness preserved from human impact by International Treaty. However, despite its remoteness and vastness it is still affected by anthropogenic climate change.

A paper to appear in the January issue of Global Change Biology shows how the dominant plants in Antarctica have been affected by modern climate change. In a handful of coastal Antarctic 'oases' void of permanent ice cover, lush moss beds grow during the short summer season from December to February using melt water from streams and lakes. Up until now, measuring the seasonal growth rate of these plants has been extremely difficult and hence it was impossible to assess the impact of our changing climate.

This research, conducted by a team of environmental scientists from the University of Wollongong (UOW) and nuclear physicists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), shows how the increased concentration of radiocarbon in the atmosphere resulting from nuclear weapons testing (mostly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, called the 'the bomb spike') can be used to accurately date the age of the moss shoots along their stems in a similar way to tree-rings.

Professor Sha
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Contact: Sharon Robinson
sharonr@uow.edu.au
61-024-221-5753
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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