Tag: carbon-14

Atmospheric Remnants of Nuclear Tests Reveal Antarctica's Tiny "Old-Growth Forests"

By Douglas Main | November 30, 2011 8:47 am

Ceratodon purpureusHardy Antarctic moss.

Ah, Antarctica. A vast expanse of ice, interrupted by mountains, ice… and more ice (with the occasional penguin). But in the East of the continent and on the Windmill Islands near Australia’s Casey research station, bare ground can actually be seen during summer months. Here Antarctica’s endemic plants dwell: lichens, terrestrial algae, and mosses. These smatterings of bryophytes are amongst the hardiest flora in the world, providing a home for a variety of minute life. They survive being covered in snow most of the year, only growing briefly during the summer months, watered by snowmelt. Except for in-person observations made over the last two decades, little definitive was known about these oases of diversity, like their age or how they might respond to changes in climate.

But now, some of the moss’s secrets are out. A recent study in the journal Global Change Biology found that some of these plants must be more than a century old, and a few may even be thousands of years old, said researcher  and study author Sharon Robinson via email. On average these mosses grow at the glacial speed of 1 millimeter per year—and some of the turfs are meters thick. That means many of these unassuming mossy carpets were there when humans first made it to the continent a century ago—and likely well before. “These mosses are effectively the old growth forests of Antarctica—in miniature,” Robinson said.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
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