PHOTO | Worrying: More and more flowers are growing in Antarctica

Antarctic pearl (Colobanthus prettinsis) / Photo: Raphael Sane / AFP / Profimedia

As summer temperatures rise, so do more flowers in Antarctica. This worrying phenomenon makes this part of the world less and less recognizable – year by year, says "Science Alert".

Scientists have discovered flowering plants, mosses and algae on land expanding like never before, and the extent of floating sea ice is at a record low. These dramatic changes coincided with rising summer temperatures.

Researchers from the University of Washington have recorded the largest heat wave ever to hit Antarctica in 2022. In March, temperatures near the South Pole reached their maximum, when -10 degrees were measured for three days.

"This was the warmest temperature anomaly recorded anywhere in the world," said Edward Blanchard-Wriglesworth, an atmospheric scientist and first author of the University of Washington team's published study.

Some of the team members, while working in the Antarctic, wore short pants and could even walk around shirtless due to the hot weather. Moments like these show that Antarctica is not as immune to the climate crisis as some scientists once thought.

To figure out how much of the recent Antarctic heat wave is attributable to climate change, the team of scientists used a modeling strategy that relies on "the unfolding of past events or plausible future events" to reproduce current climate events.

"We found that climate change over the past century has increased the heat wave by 2 degrees Celsius, while the equivalent heat wave in 2096 will be an additional 6 degrees Celsius warmer than 2022 (8 degrees Celsius compared to 1922)," the researchers write. in their findings.

That future scenario could bring March temperatures in Antarctica close to the melting point, threatening vast expanses of ice on the continent.

Currently, Antarctica and the associated islands are covered in permanent snow and ice, with only about one percent of the land suitable for flowering plants such as Antarctic hairy grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus prettinsis).

However, in recent decades, warmer springs and summers have led to a proliferation of such plants, with growth rates increasing by 20 percent, or more, from 2009 to 2018.

By the end of the century, some models predict a tripling of ice-free land on the Antarctic Peninsula, allowing plant colonization. If vegetation continues to spread in these zones, researchers worry that it will lead to "irreversible loss of biodiversity" in Antarctica.

"We know that there will be thousands of square kilometers of ice-free land, and that warmer temperatures and additional available water will create new habitats suitable for colonization, benefiting some species and not others," explained Jasmine Lee, a biologist.

Scientists around the world are now working as fast as they can to understand past and present Antarctic habitats so they can try to preserve them for the future.

The Antarctic heat wave study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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