James H C Fenton ECOLOGIST www.fenton.scot
POLAR Field Guide to Ice Antarctic peat Antarctic vegetation Polar novels
1. The Moss peat banks of Signy & Moe Islands, South Orkney Islands The peat is formed by two species of moss: Polytrichum strictum and Chorisodontium aciphyllum. It is underlain by permafrost at a depth of c.15-20 cm, and is up to two metres thick and 5,000 years old.
Signy Island: Deep moss peat banks on level or gently sloping ground at the northwest end of the island. Note that a metre rule is visible as a scale marker in some photos.  Signy Island: A turf on a steep slope dominated by Polytrichum strictum below Observation Bluff. Moe Island All pictures were taken while James was working for the British Antarctic Suvey in the 1970s. Click here for more info. on Antarctic peat. See also my paper: The rate of peat accumulation in Antarctic moss banks Journal of Ecology, 1980, Vol.68, No, 1, pp. 211-228  For a full description of this habitat see: James Fenton & Ron Lewis Smith, 1982. Distribution, composition and general characteristics of the moss banks of the maritime Antarctic. British Antarctic Survey Bulletin Vol. 51.
1 7 2. Vertical edges of Antarctic moss peat banks A characteristic of many Antarctic moss peat banks is that one side has a vertical edge. These are visible in many of the photographs above taken on the South Orkney Islands. However the tallest such edge, at 3m height, is at Walker Point, Elephant Island (see picture below). The vertical edges are not erosion features – note the absence of eroded peat at their base. The pictures here demonstrate their formation. All the pictures were taken on Signy Island in 1975. Picture 4 is a key one, showing how moss shoots at the edge of the moss bank break off and hang down. This can happen at periodic intervals, as illustrated in picture 5. The whole structure is supported by the permanently frozen undecomposed moss peat (permafrost). For a description of how they form see: Fenton, J. 1982.  The formation of vertical edges on Antarctic moss peat banks. Arctic & Alpine Research Vol. 14.  .  2 3 5 6 8 9 10 11 4 4. Ice retreat These pictures show peat (black) which has been exposed as permanent ice has retreated. This indicates that the climate has varied over the years. All photos taken 1975. See the paper: Fenton, J. 1982. Vegetation re-exposed after burial by ice and its relationship to changing climate in the South Orkney Islands. British Antarctic Survey Bulletin Vol. 51. 5. Other moss peat banks in Antarctica & South Georgia 1 & 2: Moss turf dominated by Chorisodontium aciphyllum at Shingle Cove, Coronation Island (South Orkneys). Pictures taken 1999. 3-8: Moss turf dominated by Polytrichum strictum on steep ground above the penguin colony on Cuverville Island (Antarctic Peninsula). Note that the moss is slowly sliding downhill over the permafrost, with picture 8 showing moss peat which has slid down and accumulated at the bottom of slope. Pictures taken 1988/9. 9: Moss turf dominated by Polytrichum strictum at Galindez Island, Argentine Islands (Antarctic Peninsula). See also the two pictures of Galindez Island under ‘Ice Retreat’ above. Pictures taken 1975. 10: The deepest moss peat bank found: c.3m deep, at Walker Point on Elephant Island (picture from 1976-7 Joint Services Expedition). 11: Turf of Polytrichum strictum at Maiviken, on South Georgia, with the grass Festuca contracta. Picture taken 1975. 1 2 4 5 8 7 6 3 9 10 11 Download an illustrated article on my work as a botanist studying Antarctic moss peat .pdf 1.2mb
29 April 2022 New paper by James Fenton published in Antarctic Science The contribution of Antarctic moss peat to the understanding of global peatland processes