30th August 2013
We have exciting news from the moss bank (our version of the coal face!): yesterday our first project journal paper was published in Current Biology and was also selected by the journal for pre-publicity. As we knew a while ago that publication was planned for August (a.k.a the Silly Season in journalism) we were sat on tenterhooks waiting for an invitation onto breakfast TV. Global events have overtaken the news agenda (we’re still waiting Suzanna and Bill!), but we received requests for interviews from Live Science (15 Facebook shares and one Tweet to date!) and the Voice of America. A journalist from Grist.org is writing a piece as we speak and the story also featured on the websites of the Universities of Exeter and Cambridge.
Having drawn the short straw I was first in line to face the media frenzy – which generated feelings somewhat akin to sitting an exam: pre-event cramming even though ones brain can’t absorb anything, then an adrenaline fuelled telephone interview which was instantly forgotten except the parts when one may have said something stupid. However, the questions were fair and interested and the interviewers were keen to get some clear answers in order to fill their daily quota by writing about our work. Having never had any press interest in my previous papers, with the occasional request for a reprint from fellow scientists and the citation of the papers in other people’s work the only signs that your months of work is being read at all, it is quite a change to actually be asked about what we did, why we did it and what it showed!
This paper was based on a moss section taken from Lazarev Bay, Alexander Island (69o 22’ S, 071o 51’ W) and is the southernmost known moss bank or substantial peat accumulation in the world. We found that multiple indicators of biological productivity (moss growth rate, organic matter accumulation, carbon isotope values and testate amoebae populations) all increased rapidly from the 1960s onwards – synchronously with known changes in climate that have occurred in the region. We found that these rapid changes were unprecedented in the 150 years that the moss bank has been accumulating and this demonstrated that the ecosystem is sensitive to climate change. This is important both with regard to the ecology of the Antarctic Peninsula now and in the future, but also suggests that in the work that we are doing analysing the deeper and older cores, that by using our measured proxies we should be able to identify any other substantial environmental changes that have occurred further back in the past.