The global warming crisis is a problem that lurks in the back of the mind for many. Scientists are constantly warning against the consequences of a warming climate, to little avail. There are efforts to reduce pollution and fossil fuel use across the globe, but some would say that the Earth has already reached the point of no return. According to NASA Earth Observatory, Earth’s global temperature has increased by 2 degrees Farenheight since 1880, with the majority of the total temperature increase occurring after 1975.
In 2023, the consequences of global warming are becoming more apparent. Antarctica’s polar bears are starving, Venice is sinking and dozens of species are going extinct every day. As of September 2023, even more obscure consequences of global warming have begun to surface.
On Sept. 21, an Instagram post alerted the public to flowers blooming in Antarctica, alongside a colorful photo of flowering plants scattered across a shoreline while icebergs floated in the background. Shortly after this post was uploaded, it circulated throughout the internet, spreading the word that Antarctica was experiencing an unprecedented amount of blooming flowers. The photo was shortly found to be taken in Greenland, after several news sources conducted reverse image searches, and the colorful flowers were identified as Arctic–not Antarctic–species. Nevertheless, the inaccurate post did circulate concern about a relevant topic, which is worth mentioning for the sake of establishing clarity and raising awareness.
When visiting Antarctica, one might expect to see an endless snowy landscape. After all, it is one of the coldest places on Earth. Due to the harsh conditions of Antarctica, very few things are able to grow in the frost-covered ground. Only two plants and a few species of moss and lichen manage to survive there, and even those that have adapted to the cold weather are not widely spread across Antarctica.
In April 2022, a study was published by Nicoletta Cannone et al. investigating the acceleration of warming in Antarctica, and its impact on the region’s two native flowering plants: Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis).
The study researched the effects of rising air temperature on the Antarctica Peninsula region between the 1950s and 2016. The rising temperature exceeded the global average warming. The study found that the growth of the flowering plants had exploded, increasing at a striking rate and covering more ground each year. The scientists theorized that the temperature of the summer air in the Antarctic Peninsula region had reached a range that allowed the plants to thrive in a formerly inhabitable climate. According to the study, this is the first evidence of accelerated climate change in Antarctica.
In March 2022, scientists working in East Antarctica experienced a record-breaking heat wave. The typical temperature of the eastern side of the region is 65.2 degrees below zero. During the heatwave, temperatures rose to an average of 5 degrees and peaked at 14 degrees. News outlets report that researchers on site were wearing shorts, and some were even able to remove their shirts in the relative warmth.
The glacial melt witnessed all over the world has also reached an all-time high, and the rapid melt has already begun to change the circulation of the Atlantic Ocean, as warm ocean waters slow currents. The warming of the ocean has also been linked to more destructive hurricanes and storms around the world. Thwaites Glacier, colloquially called the Doomsday Glacier, is melting in Antarctica and is expected to collapse within the next decade. It earned its nickname because of its massive size and potential to drastically raise sea levels single handedly.
The consequences of global warming are becoming very clear, very quickly. Some believe that the flowering plants of Antarctica indicate that the region has reached its tipping point in the global warming crisis, and there will be no return from this. Others still hold on to hope, but only time will tell the fate of the Antarctic Peninsula region.