Written by Sanjana Nayakanti, a grade 6 student
Centuries of explorations and discoveries and there is still a lot we do not know about our planet. So, scientists and ordinary people feel great excitement when something new is discovered. The world is full of things yet to be explored and one such astonishing discovery of plant life was made by Indian scientists in Antarctica a few years ago.
In 2017, Indian scientists working in Antarctica discovered a new species of moss called Bryum Bharatiensis – it can survive in one of the harshest environments on the earth.
First, a little about Antarctica.
Antarctica- The Forever Frozen Land
Antarctica is a frozen landmass around the South Pole.
In size, it is the fifth-largest continent. There are no countries and it has no native population.
There are seven countries that claim different parts of Antarctica. New Zealand, Australia, France, Norway, the United Kingdom, Chile, and Argentina.
It is the largest single piece of ice found anywhere on the earth.
Antarctica has a cold and dry climate with very little precipitation. The Antarctic is actually one of the driest deserts, strange but true. Temperatures range from a high of 9 degrees Celsius in the summer to -70 degrees Celsius in winters. It has even dropped to -93 degrees Celsius once!
India in Antarctica
India is among a handful of countries conducting scientific research in Antarctica. Indian research centres were established in 1981. Currently, there are two Indian research stations, Maitri and Bharati. Our story begins around 2016-17 when Polar Biologists from the Central University of Punjab were on an expedition to Antarctica. Felix Bast, Associate Professor, stumbled upon moss growing on the Larsemann Hills near Bharati Station, in East Antarctica.
Plant life in an unlikely place
This was an amazing discovery of plant life in interior Antarctica. According to Professor Felix Bast, “Dark greenish species were found behind a hill range”. The moss species discovered by Professor Felix Bast and his team has been named Bryum bharatiensis.
Moss is actually a simple non-flowering plant that often grows on rocks and surfaces mostly in damp areas. It looks like dark green clumps or a mat. Now, only 1% of Antarctica is suitable for plant life. “Plants need all sorts of things to grow”, like sunlight and nitrogen. Antarctica receives almost no sunlight during the winter months. Scientists believe that plants become dormant during this period and revive once there’s sunlight and water during summer. The scientists also observed that the moss got Nitrogen, important for plant growth, from the poop of the penguins that nest in the area.
Warning of global warming
As excited as scientists are with this discovery, they can see the impact of global warming and climate change on the fragile ecosystem of Antarctica. “Antarctica is getting greenified. Many temperate species of plants that previously could not survive in this frozen continent are now seen everywhere because of the warming up of the continent,” said Prof Bast.
Antarctica plays an important role in maintaining the “Heat Balance” of the earth. The massive ice sheet reflects a lot of solar radiation back into space keeping the temperature of the earth low. The icy continent also helps move the ocean currents around the world. If the Antarctic ice melts, it will raise the temperature of the earth and the water level of the oceans: Another reason for all of us to tackle climate change and take better care of Mother Earth. There is much to discover and explore on our planet yet.