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Will Antarctic Oases Remain Green?

A green oasis of Antarctic mosses in the Windmill Islands. Zbyněk Malenovský

A green oasis of Antarctic mosses in the Windmill Islands. Credit: Zbyněk Malenovský

By Zbyněk Malenovský

Antarctic mosses are threatened by climatic change and human activity, but researchers can now detect their health by analysing spectral patterns imaged from the ground or remotely by drones.

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When we think of Antarctica, most of us imagine vast, pristine snowfields, frozen lakes, glaciers, mountains and nunataks, a freezing sea full of icebergs and, indeed, penguins, seals and whales. Arriving to Antarctica, enthusiasts of raw nature will never be disappointed. The silent scenery is an artistically designed collage of simple landscape features such as rocks, water bodies, snow and ice patches “dressed” mostly in grey, blue and white.

But the colours of Antarctica can change very dramatically. Walking along the coast of Eastern Antarctica, one can encounter bright and dark greens decorated with yellow, orange and red spots. These unexpectedly contrasting colours belong to one of the most cold- and drought-resistant plant species of our planet, Antarctic mosses.

Mosses in Antarctica grow prevailingly along the snow-free rocky coast. Although they are well-adapted to survive inhospitable Antarctic conditions, polar biologists are concerned about the future of these green oases of polar deserts. Temperature and wind anomalies caused by the depletion of stratospheric ozone and global climate change are likely to trigger their decline and potential extinction.

More than 100 species of mosses and liverworts have been found in the Antarctic. Most of them grow along the Antarctic Peninsula and its associated islands, but a few are found in coastal...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.