Like most plants, moss relies on water to survive. However, in Antarctica, where water is mostly locked up in ice the moss have had to adapt.
For them, meltwater over summer is critical to their survival. As the Antarctic region faces more climate pressures, including heatwaves, the availability of meltwater is changing.
“From our past work, we know that the amount of water in the ecosystem is critical to determining both the health of moss, if it is green and lush or grey and dormant, and also, which moss species grow where,” explains Distinguished Professor Sharon Robinson.
So developing the ability to monitor water content, alongside other health indicators like “greenness”, within the moss beds is key to their conservation.
To address this issue a team of SAEF scientists from the University of Wollongong, together with scientists at the University of Tasmania, have collaborated on a new method to measure moss bed water content, using drones fitted with short-wave infrared sensors.
In February 2022, the team travelled to Casey Station in Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Program to test out the method. They mapped three moss sites surrounding the station, including two within Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs), by shining short-wave light across the environment and collecting measurements of the reflected light (or spectral indices).