Researching Antarctica’s past climate
Dr Matt Amesbury, a post doctoral researcher in Geography has travelled to the Antarctic Peninsula as part of a research team developing records of past climate change stretching back 5000 years using slow growing moss banks. Matt and other members of the project have spent January and early February in Antarctica to carry out fieldwork by taking sample cores from selected sites and later examining them in the lab.
Over the past 50 years, the climate over most of Antarctica has remained relatively stable, but the Antarctic Peninsula has experienced one of the highest rates of warming anywhere on Earth, with increases of 3°C since the 1950s and even higher rates for winter in some locations. The rapid increase in temperature has been associated with decreased sea-ice extent, ice-shelf collapse, glacier retreat and increased ice flow rates and changes in ecosystems on land and sea. However, the causes and context of the recent temperature changes are unclear, although it is thought that stratospheric ozone depletion and increasing greenhouse gases are both important. Current global climate models do not capture the observed changes adequately at present.
In the slightly warmer, more vegetated Antarctic Peninsula there is an archive of past climate change just waiting to be explored. Banks of moss have been accumulating on islands to the west of the Peninsula for thousands of years and the frozen moss provides a time capsule of past climate conditions. This evidence will help put the changing climate of one of the most rapidly warming parts of the planet into a longer-term context.
The project is a collaboration between the University of Exeter, University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey and is funded by Natural Environment Research Council.
Date: 7 February 2013