A new study conducted in Antarctica has solved an age-long mystery of how numerous plants and animals species were able to survive during the ice age. The findings concluded that the cause for the survival of various species was heated steam coming out of volcanoes.
The research looked at lichens, bugs and mosses present in a region where 16 volcanoes still stand, having survived the last ice age 20,000 years ago. Ceridwen Fraser, a doctor from Australian National University, said that species could have hung out in caves and steam fields, where it is “tens of degrees warmer” compared to outside during the ice age. Fraser says the Antarctic volcanoes, over long periods of cold, are an oasis for life. The doctor made the analogy of a desert, comparing how one is in an arid region looks for water. In the freezing temperatures of Antarctica, one is looking for a warm spot. As a result, 60 percent of the species in the Antarctic cannot be found anywhere else around the globe.
Fraser notes how solving the mystery of how species survived during the ice age is a crucial finding. Exploring climate change and its impact in the past will help scientists understand how to adapt to the “accelerated change” caused by humans today.
In the present, global temperatures have risen, which has led to the continued thawing of ice, meaning the arctic is no longer as bright and white as it used to be. Even more of a concern is the recent discovery of how the open and dark waters of the Arctic absorb the sun’s heat instead of reflecting it back into space, speeding up the thawing process. This is an obvious concern that has been heating up in discussions as time continues to pass.
According to a news release by Australian National University, the findings could also assist researchers into better understanding animals in regards to how they adapt to climate change. Aleks Terauds, a doctor from the Australian Antarctic Division, said more species are found the closer one gets to volcanoes. The pattern backs their hypothesis that several species have been “expanding their ranges” and moving outwards gradually from volcanic areas over the past 20,000 years since the last ice age.
In essence, Fraser said that these volcanoes may be crucial in “promoting biodiversity,” which is a shift in view from how volcanoes are usually seen: as “big explosive destroyers of life.” The doctor said that although the findings are restricted to one area, the idea of geothermal refuges could be applied elsewhere around the globe.
According to Fraser, although these findings may have solved an age-long mystery of how species survived during the ice age, and could help battle global warming today, there is a downside. If areas of the Antarctic begin to warm up near these active volcanoes, more species will be able to thrive in the area. This includes humans or other species that drift over to the region, resulting in a high likelihood that the species who do end up colonizing this new space will be able to do so only by invasion of species already in place.
By Kollin Lore