Displaying items by tag: Antarctic moss

RobinsonRidge2012SAR-copy

Climate change is affecting Antarctica and minimally destructive long-term monitoring of its unique ecosystems is vital to detect biodiversity trends, and to understand how change is affecting these communities. Back in the 1990s when I first visited Antarctic the tradies at Casey would ask “So what is happening to the moss?” given that they knew we were studying it. At the time we didn’t know, because long term monitoring was not something that anyone was interested in funding. But it bugged Dr Jane Wasley & I that we didn’t know the answer. So, when State of the Environment Reporting started, we agreed to try and come up with a monitoring system that would answer the question. 

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Jane and I devised a pilot which Jane and Dr Johanna Turnbull tried out in 2000. Our brief was something that we could achieve in a minimum time of five good field days. This was to optimise the chances that we would actually get logistical support to maintain the monitoring long-term. Five days is roughly the time the ship spends at Casey to refuel and resupply the station for the coming winter. So we thought that if our monitoring could be done in that time we had a better chance of getting to Casey and achieving the long-term monitoring we needed to understand the ecosystem. If each sampling required more time in the field we would probably get less chances to measure the moss beds. At the time we thought we would probably need 25 years before we would see any change in the moss beds but we decided on every five years as a compromise.

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We revised the pilot scheme and in 2003, Jane and Johanna set up the 10 transects across two sites, with 30 permanent quadrats marked at each site. In 2008 I went to Casey with Ellen Ryan-Colton and we were shocked to see that all our moss beds had turned from bright green to red. So we took our photos and our tiny moss tweezer pinch samples and back in Australia we analysed them. Because the change was occuring so rapidly we argued to go back in 2010 to see if the moss had recovered and we were lucky enough to go back in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. 

ASPA135MP2008SAR

We now know that the moss beds are changing profoundly, with species on the moveacross the moss beds as the region dries. We can tell the tradies that our 1990’s guesses were wrong and that moss changes rapidly in response to climate change - so much for 25 years! 

To speed up the analysis, make it more accurate and reduce time needed in the field. Dr Diana King has devised a method for semi-automatic analysis of the photographs we take of the quadrats and 20 years after we started, her new methodology has just been published. In future, we hope that we can do this image analysis over larger areas with drones or even satellite imagery

DKFig1-copy 

This year we hoped to get back to Casey to see how the moss beds are faring after 20 years of monitoring. Unfortunately our trip in February 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19 and until there is a vaccine we probably will not get a chance to check them again. Maybe we will need to devise self-piloting drones to check for us! In the meantime, we hope the moss is hanging in there and hopefully it got lots of melt water and had a good year in 2020.

Published in News

Greenturf-ASPA135-2008SARJPG

In late February there were reports of record-breaking high temperatures from scientists working on the Antarctic Peninsula. At the time Diana King and I were in NSW in Australia having spent the summer experiencing smoke pollution from the Australian bushfires along with extremely hot days. Our colleague Dana Bergstrom was sending us reports of rain at Davis Station in East Antarctica. Given that almost all precipitation falls as snow in Antarctica, these were strange reports. Our Chilean colleagues, Marisol Pizarro Rojas and  Gustavo Zúñiga were also reporting that there was no snow around the Escudero research station on King George Island and that every day was perfect for field work, a most a worrying development. There is always bad weather sometime in Antarctica!

Because of the news stories about extreme heat in Antarctica, I was asked to write a letter to the editor for Global Change Biology discussing these temperature extremes and what they might mean for Antarctic biodiversity. So, I reached out to Dana, Gustavo and Marisol for the insiders guide to the 2019/20 summer field season and in Australia, Diana and I started looking at the climate data. We decided we really needed a meteorological expert and so we asked Andrew Klekociuk if he could explain what was going on.

Antarctica-heatwave

What we didn’t expect to find was a heatwave at Casey (the station where we do most of our work). This had actually occurred in late January and our analysis showed that the whole summer season was characterised by heatwaves rolling around the continent from November to February. Unfortunately, we did not have a team at Casey this summer. We had planned to go in early February to continue the long-term monitoring that we started there in 2000.  One week before our team was due to go to Casey our trip was cancelled because of the risk that scientists would take COVID-19 to Antarctica. So, no one was there to see if our Casey moss beds were flooded by extra melt water, got heat stressed or both. However, the good news is that Antarctic winter teams appear to be free of coronavirus.

RedShedgloriousgreens2008SAR

At the end of March, the paper was published online in Global Change Biology. You can read it here, or check out the excellent synopsis written for the Conversation by Dana. We will be really interested to see what reports of biological changes arise from these extreme summer events in Antarctica.

As we see the world pivoting to manage the COVID-19 crisis, I am hopefully that we can use the same ingenuity, resolve, care and compassion to take action on climate change, so that these Antarctic summer heatwaves do not become our new normal. 

Published in News

In late February there were reports of record-breaking high temperatures from scientists working on the Antarctic Peninsula. At the time Diana King and I were in NSW in Australia having spent the summer experiencing smoke pollution from the Australian bushfires along with extremely hot days. Our colleague Dana Bergstrom was sending us reports of rain at Davis Station in East Antarctica. Given that almost all precipitation falls as snow in Antarctica, these were strange reports. Our Chilean colleagues, Marisol Pizarro Rojas and  Gustavo Zúñiga were also reporting that there was no snow around the Escudero research station on King George Island and that every day was perfect for field work, a most a worrying development. There is always bad weather sometime in Antarctica!

Because of the news stories about extreme heat in Antarctica, I was asked to write a letter to the editor for Global Change Biology discussing these temperature extremes and what they might mean for Antarctic biodiversity. So, I reached out to Dana, Gustavo and Marisol for the insiders guide to the 2019/20 summer field season and in Australia, Diana and I started looking at the climate data. We decided we really needed a meteorological expert and so we asked Andrew Klekociuk if he could explain what was going on.

What we didn’t expect to find was a heatwave at Casey (the station where we do most of our work). This had actually occurred in late January and our analysis showed that the whole summer season was characterised by heatwaves rolling around the continent from December to February. Unfortunately, we did not have a team at Casey this summer. We had planned to go in early February to continue the long-term monitoring that we started there in 2000.  One week before our team was due to go to Casey our trip was cancelled because of the risk that scientists would take COVID-19 to Antarctica. So, no one was there to see if our Casey moss beds were flooded by extra melt water, got heat stressed or both. However, the good news is that Antarctic winter teams appear to be free of coronavirus.

At the end of March, the paper was published online in Global Change Biology. You can read it here, or check out the excellent synopsis written for the Conversation by Dana. We will be really interested to see what reports of biological changes arise from these extreme summer events in Antarctica.

As we see the world pivoting to manage the COVID-19 crisis, I am hopefully that we can use the same ingenuity, resolve, care and compassion to take action on climate change, so that these Antarctic summer heatwaves do not become our new normal. 

Published in News
Saturday, 09 February 2019 22:20

Homeward Bound 7 - Palmer, peatmoss and politics

We were booked to go ashore at Palmer Station, the American base on Anvers Island, on the 9thJan, but the brashy, sea ice had blown in around the station making it too risky for the Ushuaia staff to take zodiacs in. So about 10 expeditioners from Palmer come aboard the ship to tell us about the science that is happening on the base. 

seaice2

I am really happy to see that one of my colleagues from the US Dr Zicheng Yu(Zic) from Lehigh University, is one of those researchers. Like my group, Zic is using stable isotopes of carbon, and also oxygen, to understand how plant growth is affected by climate change in Antarctica. Specifically, Zic is a paleoecologist and works with peat mosses. These are mosses that have been growing for thousands of years in wet, boggy sites and the older mosses become compressed and peaty as the plants above press down. The wetness helps to preserve the moss which means it can contain climate records that go back for thousands of years. Zic has sampled such mosses from Patagonia and is interested in how far South the peat mosses extend. The Antarctic mosses we work with are younger, hundreds, rather than thousands of years old, but we are working with individual plants, not peat. In peat there can be layers and layers of different mosses and even grasses and other plants as you delve down into the core. Our individual plants are only a few centimeters tall whereas peat cores can be meters deep. It’s all a matter of scale. In East Antarctica the mosses grow a few millimeters each year, whereas on the peninsula they might grow a whole centimeter in a year!

long-cp-figZic and I last met at the SCAR Open Science meeting in Davos in June, when Dr Melinda Waterman and I spoke at the same session as him. Zic tells everyone on the ship about the work that we are doing on Antarctic moss which is great visibility for me!  He also has a University research position in China and so I introduce him to the Chinese HB3 team.

After the formal session we go onto the front deck for photographs and also get to talk to the Palmer staff. It’s really nice to meet a range of expeditioners including scientists and the staff who keep the station running and support the researchers on the base.

Palmer

All the expeditioners at Palmer were affected by the US Government Shutdown. Staff employed by the government were working for no pay and  having trouble ordering supplies for the station for the coming season. Some of the scientists cannot get to their sites to do research, because the public servants in the US who prepare the permits are on furlough and can’t process the permits. This is such a waste of everyone’s time and is ultimately a waste of the NSF grant money.  I am hoping that some of this has resolved since we got back and Zic and his colleagues got their work done. Lets hope the rest of the season is productive for them all.

Palmer is part of the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network with a study area extending North and South of Palmer from the coast to several hundred kilometers to the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. 

seaice

Published in News

icedrops

We were supposed to go ashore at Neko Harbour but it was ice bound.  The wind has blown the sea ice close to shore and so we can’t get ashore in the zodiacs. It’s too dangerous to risk puncturing them.

penguin

So, we have a glorious glacier cruise and see more spectacular ice formations both cascading off the continent and in the icebergs and sea ice.  

blueberg

We collect clear, black ice for the bar and see glacial deposits where rocks and silt are layered into the icebergs.

charlotte

We also find some moss on a Point near Neko Harbour. I am hoping it’s a new description and we can go back to study it! Although it’s on a pretty sheer rock face so it would be tough to collect. I think we would need a drone to collect samples for us. 

mossstream

We were on an iceberg cruise on the zodiac and our guide was Juan, a fellow plant enthusiast so when I spotted green through my binoculars and asked if it was moss or algae, he was happy to get closer to check it out. It was on a huge volcanic plug with full length dykes running down the steep cliffs.

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On one side was a stream of moss cascading down terraced steps in the rock face.  Very exciting.  Just above the moss we spotted 2 Antarctic tern chicks which were probably helping to fertilise the moss stream.

seal

Then of course we were miles from the ship and the weather closed in so it was foggy on the way back and for the first time we had to navigate back to the ship on GPS. It was cold and felt properly Antarctic in the zodiac and we had to keep an eye out for bergy bits of sea ice. Very exciting for us all because it felt a bit intrepid, but I didn’t want to get a reputation for being the last one back on the zodiacs and holding up the ship. Don’t want to set a bad example!

Juanzodiac

 

Published in News
Tuesday, 05 February 2019 20:05

Homeward Bound 5 - Cuverville Island

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Each day the participants on the voyage spend 4-5 hours on the leadership program and we attempt to have a landing or a zodiac cruise if landings are not possible. I am leading the on board science program with Dr Katherine Duncan from the University of Strathclyde. Kate was a participant on the second voyage (HB2) back in March. We hadn’t met before this voyage but had talked on whats app and zoom calls whilst preparing the program along with the science faculty foundersDr Justine Shaw (University of Queensland) and Dr Mary-Anne Lea (University of Tasmania). Kate is a wealth of knowledge about the HB program, the ship and what we need to bring with us. Luckily, both she and Dr Sophie Adams (our wellbeing guru and also a HB2 alumna) brought real coffee, an important component for wellbeing on the ship as elsewhere!

FernKate

Having only met on the 28thDecember, Kate and I are now sharing a cabin, running a science theme together, enjoying our new-found friendship and planning future science grant applications. We also get to be on one of the first zodiacs ashore in order to supervise the landings and are often last back as we round up the stragglers who just want an extra minute ashore and, that last photograph or video.

The next landing is on Cuverville Island (7thJan) where we find Gentoo penguins nesting and skuas patrolling.

penguins

Cuverville Island is very snowy and the chicks were tiny, but at one end it has the most amazing wall of moss, a whole cliff face, green and grey against the white-grey sky. I would love to visit again and take moss samples for dating, to see how old these moss forests are. 

SARMossGentoo-penguinsCuverville-Island

We watched penguins rolling eggs or feeding chicks as well as well as mating.  Presumably many of these Gentoo penguins have also had aborted attempts at rearing their first clutch of chicks this season. 

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 I take the opportunity to segue from penguin sex to moss sex to the amusement of the nearby participants and Fern Hames (Arthur Rylah Institute)our on-board Sci-Comms facilitator.

moss

On the way back to the ship we have a spectacular iceberg cruise, full of amazing blue, turquoise and white shapes against the grey of the sea. 

berg

Published in News

Ceratodon purpureus is a cosmopolitan moss that survives some of the harshest places on Earth: from frozen Antarctica to hot South Australian deserts. In this study we isolated nine compounds from Australian and Antarctic C. purpureus and considered how they might help this species to survive under such extreme conditions.

Download preprint here

np-2017-0008570004

Link to paper

Published in News
Monday, 28 January 2019 15:17

Homeward Bound 3 visits Carlini Base

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Saturday (5thJan) we are back on King George Island, at the Argentinian Carlini Base. Carlini is the only station in Potter Cove and is named after a scientist Alejandro Ricardo Carlini. The station sits beneath the impressive Tres Hermanos mountain and the nearby glaciers are retreating rapidly exposing new rocky areas.

CarliniMt

The weather is overcast, cloudy with wet snow. Young elephant seals haul out amongst the chunks of glacial ice that are washed up along the beach.

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We tour the Science labs, the Dive sheds and also are given refreshments in the station mess. There is a compression chamber in the Dive facility and a technician to operate it in case the divers run into problems. 

CarliniDive

The scientists on station came from many countries and tell us about the current science research programs that are running on and around the station including a lot of marine biology and hydrology. It is great to see another base in action and to hear first-hand from the scientists about their research.  It is also wonderful that so many people on station are prepared to give up their Saturday to entertain visitors.

Carlinideparture

The projects include remediation projects aimed at understanding how plants and microbes can clean up contaminated soil around Antarctic stations. Many sites in Antarctica are contaminated with oil and other chemicals as a result of historic waste practices and some of my students have investigated how tolerant Antarctic mosses and alga are to oil and if Macquarie Island plants can help promote soil clean ups

SARmossCarliniStation

I was particularly excited to see so much moss and lichen around Carlini, as well as the two vascular plants that grow on the peninsula region of Antarctica, the grass Deschampsia antarctica and the pearlwort, Colobanthus quitensis.  The lichens and mosses have even started to colonise the whale bones that remain from historic whaling in the region.

carlini2

Published in News

 The lush moss beds that grow near East Antarctica’s coast are among the only plants that can withstand life on the frozen continent. But our new research shows that these slow-growing plants are changing at a far faster rate than anticipated.

Read more in the Conversation

Plus here is a link to our latest youtube video

Sharon Robinson, Melinda Waterman  & Andrew Netherwood (2017)  East Antarctic mosses reveal a windier, drier climate 

The paper is available here if you want to read it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you want a copy.

Robinson SAKing D, Bramley-Alves J, Waterman MJ, Ashcroft MB, Wasley J,Turnbull JD,Miller RE,Ryan-Colton E, Benny T, Mullany K, Clarke, LJ, Barry, L, HuaQ. (2018) Rapid change in East Antarctic terrestrial vegetation in response to regional dryingNature Climate Change8, 879-884, DOI: 10.1038/s41558-018-0280-0

 

Published in News

Drones are helping scientists check the health of Antarctic mosses, revealing clues on the pace of climate change.

Read more in the Conversation

Plus here is the Youtube video

and if you want to read the paper

 Malenovský Z, Lucieer A King DK, Turnbull JD & Robinson SA (2017Unmanned aircraft system advances health mapping of fragile polar vegetationMethods in Ecology and Evolution 1842-1857

 

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