Warming Antarctic seas likely to impact on krill habitats

Aug 21, 2013
Krill swarm. Photographer: Jamie Hall. Image source: NOAA. via Wikimedia Commons.

Antarctic krill are usually less than 6 cm in length but their size belies the major role they play in sustaining much of the life in the Southern Ocean. They are the primary food source for many species of whales, seals, penguins and fish.

Krill are known to be sensitive to , especially in the areas where they grow as adults. This has prompted scientists to try to understand how they might respond to the effects of further climate change.

Using statistical models, a team of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Plymouth Marine Laboratory assessed the likely impact of projected temperature increases on the Weddell Sea, Scotia Sea and Southern Drake Passage, which is known for its abundance of krill. This region has experienced sea surface warming of as much as 1°C over fifty years. Projections suggest this could rise by another 1°C by the end of the 21st century.

The models are based on equations which link krill growth, , and . An analysis of the results, published this week in the online journal PLOS ONE, suggests warming, if continued, could reduce the area of growth habitat by up to 20%.

In the early life stages krill require deep water with low acidity and a narrow range of temperatures for their eggs to successfully hatch and develop. The larvae then feed on algae on the underside of sea ice.

The adults require suitable temperatures and enough of the right type of food (larger phytoplankton) to successfully grow and reproduce. Many of these critical environmental features (temperature, acidity, and food availability) could be affected by climate change.

The projected effects of warming are not evenly spread. The island of South Georgia is located within the area likely to be worst affected. Here the reduction in krill habitat could be as much as 55%. The island is home to a range of animals such as fur seals and macaroni penguins that depend upon krill, and others, such as black-browed albatrosses, which eat substantial amounts of krill as well as fish and squid. The researchers say animals which don't travel far to forage, such as fur seals, would be most affected by the projected changes.

Krill is also being commercially fished, although there is nothing to suggest current levels are unsustainable. In fact, at less than 1% of estimated biomass, catches are much lower than most other commercial fisheries.

But the Antarctic krill fishery took 68% of its total catch between 1980 and 2011 from the area of projected habitat degradation. The scientists suggest improved management systems to ensure the fisheries take into account both growing demand for catches and .

Lead author, Dr. Simeon Hill, a marine biologist at BAS, said:

"Each year, growth of Antarctic krill in the Southern Ocean produces new material that weighs twice as much as all the sugar produced in the world. Krill grow fastest in cold water and any warming can slow down or stop growth, reducing the food available for wildlife. Our research suggests that expected warming this century could severely reduce the area in which krill can successfully grow."

Although there is evidence that warming seas pose a threat to Antarctic krill habitats the team of researchers believe this can be mitigated with effective fisheries management systems in place.

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More information: "Potential Climate Change Effects on the Habitat of Antarctic Krill in the Weddell Quadrant of the Southern Ocean" by Simeon Hill, Tony Phillips (BAS) and Angus Atkinson (PML) is published by PLOS ONE.

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User comments : 11

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NikFromNYC
2.2 / 5 (18) Aug 21, 2013
Actual journal reference with figures: http://www.ploson...icles%29
Shootist
2.1 / 5 (19) Aug 21, 2013
For 500 million years, a warm Earth has been a fecund Earth. There is no reason to believe this time will be any different (assuming we are not leaving the interglacial and getting ready to ice up, again).

Regardless: "The polar bears will be fine". - Freeman Dyson.
NikFromNYC
2.1 / 5 (19) Aug 21, 2013
Activists auto-downrate my every comment.

The internal forum of SkepticalScience.com turned out to have a public directory backup and inside there were activist plans to "drown out" skeptical posts in discussion forums:

"I think this is a highly effective method of dealing with various blogs and online articles where these discussions pop up. Flag them, discuss them and then send in the troops to hammer down what are usually just a couple of very vocal people. It seems like lots of us are doing similar work, cruising comments sections online looking for disinformation to crush. I spend hours every day doing exactly this. If we can coordinate better and grow the "team of crushers" then we could address all the anti-science much more effectively." - Rob Honeycutt (Skeptical Science, 2011)

More quotes:
http://www.popula...out.html

Background info:
http://www.popula...nce.html
NikFromNYC
2.1 / 5 (18) Aug 21, 2013
They focus on the same old geothermal hot spot as the "Ring of Fire" of vulcanism extends down past the tip of S. America along the west coast of Antarctica:
http://geothermal...ap-1.gif

"The island of South Georgia is located within the area likely to be worst affected."

That actively volcanic island *is* a lower red dot on the geothermal hotspot map:
http://en.wikiped...gdom.svg

Area info: http://news.natio...-tsunami

Most of Antarctica has been cooling since records began in the 50s and the IceSAT satellite indicated that the continent overall was gaining ice mass, enough to make up for exactly half of the overall mass being lost from Greenland. This very month, Antarctica sea ice area has broken all records since they began in the 1970s:
http://arctic.atm...ive.html
NikFromNYC
2.1 / 5 (16) Aug 21, 2013
Fixed link...

Area info: http://news.natio...sunamis/

Active volcano in the region that shows recent burst in activity: http://commons.wi...0923.jpg
Gmr
3.4 / 5 (8) Aug 21, 2013
For 500 million years, a warm Earth has been a fecund Earth. There is no reason to believe this time will be any different (assuming we are not leaving the interglacial and getting ready to ice up, again).

Regardless: "The polar bears will be fine". - Freeman Dyson.


Sudden change geologically speaking is associated with mass extinctions.

I doubt many large mammals and specialists will be fine.

Rats and cockroaches are pretty much what we'll be left with.

Fecund rats and roaches, eventually. After a few million years.
Egleton
1.7 / 5 (7) Aug 22, 2013
How does the pig/ape hybrid fare? He expends great effort to overcome his lack of fecundity.

http://www.macroe...s-2.html
ubavontuba
1.3 / 5 (13) Aug 22, 2013
So the water is warming, yet the ice is increasing?

http://arctic.atm...ctic.png

How does that work? Is it some sort of magical ice that only occurs in warm sea water?

NikFromNYC
1.6 / 5 (14) Aug 22, 2013
Gmr: If Global Warming suddenly kicked in it would take about five years to modify enough coal plant scrubbers to dim the sun for a century with sulfur compounds as the nuclear plants that Greenpeace and friends blocked are finally built. If we spend money on premature solar technology and silly windmills that destroy the countryside, basic science R&D will continue to suffer and breakthroughs that actually win real hard science Nobel prizes will not be there to help us use less energy and know how to fix environmental issues.

ubavontuba: The continent averages a dozen or two degrees below zero so as warmer climate evaporates water faster it then collects as snow in mainland Antarctica faster and this makes ice flow faster outwards as sea ice. Also, Antarctica besides the hotspot of the skinny volcanic peninsula is mildly but steadily cooling, as is the ring of circling surface air around it, shown here in a map of temperature change:
http://oi45.tinyp...szgh.jpg
runrig
3.8 / 5 (4) Aug 22, 2013
Antarctica besides the hotspot of the skinny volcanic peninsula is mildly but steadily cooling, as is the ring of circling surface air around it, shown here in a map of temperature change:


Volcanism has nothing to do with it - the Antarctic peninsula lies in the zone of westerlies and has warmed because of that.

Also this ....
http://data.giss....;pol=reg
And
http://en.wikiped...2007.jpg
does not show "mild but steady cooling"
ubavontuba
1.4 / 5 (9) Aug 24, 2013
ubavontuba: The continent averages a dozen or two degrees below zero so as warmer climate evaporates water faster it then collects as snow in mainland Antarctica faster and this makes ice flow faster outwards as sea ice. Also, Antarctica besides the hotspot of the skinny volcanic peninsula is mildly but steadily cooling, as is the ring of circling surface air around it, shown here in a map of temperature change:
http://oi45.tinyp...szgh.jpg
LOL. You really don't know much about sea ice, do you?

You need to read up a little more on sea ice, and how it forms.

Here's a start:

http://en.wikiped.../Sea_ice

http://en.wikiped...ce_packs