Understanding global climate change through new breakthroughs in polar research

Feb 18, 2010

The latest findings from research on Antarctica's rich marine life are presented this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Marine Biologist Huw Griffiths from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is involved in a major international investigation into the distribution and abundance of Antarctica's vast marine biodiversity - the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML).

Griffiths presents results from the census - which began in 2005 - and describes how the investigation provides the benchmark for future studies on how the extraordinary and diverse range of sea-floor creatures living in Antarctica's chilly waters will respond to predicted environmental change.

More than 6,000 different species living on the sea-floor have been identified so far and more than half of these are unique to the icy continent. A combination of long-term monitoring studies, newly gathered information on the marine life distribution and global ocean warming models, enable the scientists to identify Antarctica's marine 'biodiversity hotspots'.

Griffiths describes how krill populations (the shrimp-like invertebrates eaten by penguins, whales and seals) are reducing as a result of a decrease in cover. A much smaller crustacean (copepods) is dominating the area once occupied by them. This shifts the balance of the food web to favour predators, like jellyfish, that are not eaten by penguins and other Southern Ocean higher predators. Sea-ice reduction is also affecting penguins that breed on the ice.

Griffiths says,
"The Polar Regions are amongst the fastest warming places on Earth and predictions suggest that in the future we'll see warming , rising ocean acidification and decreasing winter sea ice - all of which have a direct effect on .

"Marine animals spent millions of years adapting to the freezing, stable conditions of the Antarctic waters and they are highly sensitive to change. This means that from the scientist's perspective they are excellent indicators of environmental change. The polar oceans are rich in biodiversity. If species are unable to move or adapt to new conditions they could ultimately die out. The loss of any unique species is therefore a loss of global diversity."

Explore further: Hurricane Edouard right environment for drone test (Update)

More information: An abstract of Huw Griffith's presentation is available at ftp://ftp.nerc-bas.ac.uk/pub/photo/Huw-Griffiths-AAAS/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

First comprehensive 'inventory' of life in Antarctica

Dec 01, 2008

The first comprehensive "inventory" of sea and land animals around a group of Antarctic islands reveals a region that is rich in biodiversity and has more species than the Galapagos. The study provides an important benchmark ...

Global warming threatens Antarctic sea life

Feb 05, 2009

Climate change is about to cause a major upheaval in the shallow marine waters of Antarctica. Predatory crabs are poised to return to warming Antarctic waters and disrupt the primeval marine communities.

Wanderlust -- deep-sea fauna under Antarctic ice shelf

Jan 24, 2007

Under the former Larsen ice shelf east of the Antarctic Peninsula, deep-sea sea cucumbers and stalked feather stars were ubiquitously found in shallow waters. These animals usually inhabit far greater water ...

Recommended for you

Tree rings and arroyos

19 hours ago

A new GSA Bulletin study uses tree rings to document arroyo evolution along the lower Rio Puerco and Chaco Wash in northern New Mexico, USA. By determining burial dates in tree rings from salt cedar and wi ...

NASA image: Agricultural fires in the Ukraine

20 hours ago

Numerous fires (marked with red dots) are burning in Eastern Europe, likely as a result of regional agricultural practices. The body of water at the lower left of this true-color Moderate Resolution Imaging ...

NASA marks Polo for a hurricane

21 hours ago

Hurricane Polo still appears rounded in imagery from NOAA's GOES-West satellite, but forecasters at the National Hurricane Center expect that to change.

User comments : 0