Displaying items by tag: Antarctic plants

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. 

greenturf

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.

ASPA2003P1220015
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
Monday, 28 January 2019 15:17

Homeward Bound 3 visits Carlini Base

Carlini1

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.

elephantseal

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

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