Polar biologists found a species of moss during their search to the ice-covered continent in 2017. It took scientists five years to confirm that the species had been discovered for the first time.
The Indian biologists, from the Central University of Punjab, have named the specie Bryum Bharatiensis(Bharati which means learning) . This arduous process of identification involved the collection of samples, and then five years of sequencing DNA and comparing its forms with other plants.
Prof Felix Bast, one of the six-month-long expedition scientists to the continent discovered the dark green specie at Larsemann Hills, in January 2017, while inspecting the Southern Ocean, located near Bharati, one of the remotest research stations in the world.
“The big question was that how does moss survive in this landscape of rock and ice landscape,” Prof Bast said as per the fact that plants needs nitrogen, along with potassium, phosphorus, sunlight and water to survive. Which here works with the fact that only 1% of Antarctica is ice free.
Later, scientists figured out that this moss mainly grew in areas where penguins bred in large numbers. Penguin poop contains nitrogen. “Basically, the plants here survive on penguin poop. It helps that the manure doesn’t decompose in this climate,” said Prof Bast.
Now comes the sunlight. Scientists say they still fully don’t understand and is unsure with fact that how the plants survive under thick snow during the six winter months with no sunlight and temperatures dropping to as low as -76°C.
They claim that the moss “dries up to a dormant stage, almost to a seed” at this time, further they germinate again during summer in September when they start getting sunlight again. And then the dried up moss absorbs water from the melting snow.
Later after collecting the required samples, Indian scientists spent five years sequencing the plant DNA and comparing its form with other plants.
“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.
The scientists were highly worried about the “alarming evidence” of climate change that they saw during the inspection. They say they came across melting glaciers, crevasse-infested ice sheets and glacial melt-water lakes on top of ice sheets.
Bharati is located between Thala Fjord and Quilty Bay, in Antarctica. The specie has been named after the Indian research station called Bharati.
“The finding that Antarctica was greenifying was disturbing,” said Prof Raghavendra Prasad Tiwari, a leading biologist and the vice chancellor of the Central University of Punjab.
This is the first time India has discovered a plant species in the four decades since it first set up a research station in the continent. A proud moment for Indians.