Antarctic warming to reduce animals at base of ecosystem, shift some penguin populations southward

February 15, 2007

The warming most global climate models predict will do more harm than simply raise the sea levels that most observers fear. It will make drastic changes in fragile ecosystems throughout the world, especially in the Antarctic.

A warming trend during the last few decades in the Antarctic Peninsula has already forced penguin populations to migrate south and perhaps diminished the abundance of krill that are at the base of the massive food chain at the bottom of the world.

"We're already seeing the marine ecosystems respond dramatically to increases in temperatures along the Antarctic Peninsula," explained Berry Lyons, professor in the School of Earth Sciences and director of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University.

Lyons was one of many polar researchers reporting this week on the global climate threat during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco .

"Researchers are seeing the movement of penguin populations southward down the peninsula as sea ice lessens along its margins," Lyons said. "Gentoo and chinstrap penguins are shifting south into areas now populated by adelie penguins, and the adelies are being forced further south, all because of the change in sea ice."

A decrease in sea ice along the coast shows a drop in krill in the marine environment. As a major food source for higher animals, the loss of krill will reduce resources for higher mammals and birds.

Data gained through the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site near the American Palmer Station suggests that the ecosystem's response to warming in the region includes changes in both the krill's abundance and availability.

"The data implies that there may be less food there as the temperatures rise," he said.

He manages the LTER site in the Dry Valleys near McMurdo Station, the largest of the three American bases in Antarctica . "It you look at the last 100 years or so, things have been warming in the valleys. We have seen lake levels rise, more melt from the surrounding glaciers and more aquatic ecosystems replacing soil-based ecosystems."

Lyons sees what is happening now looking similar to what existed during the Eemian warming period – a time 130,000 years ago before the last major glacial stage. "We know that the climate was warmer then, sea levels were higher by a couple of meters compared to today.

Lyons points to the fact that all the global climate models predict a warming in the Antarctic and a decrease in sea ice along its margins.

"Those two things will have great impacts on both the glacial dynamics of the continent but also on the fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems that have been thriving there in the past."

Source: Ohio State University

Explore further: California sea lion population rebounded to new highs

Related Stories

California sea lion population rebounded to new highs

January 17, 2018

California sea lions have fully rebounded under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), with their population on the West Coast reaching carrying capacity in 2008 before unusually warm ocean conditions ...

Streams can be sensors

December 29, 2017

Scientists at Michigan State University have shown that streams can be key health indicators of a region's landscape, but the way they're being monitored can be improved.

Recommended for you

Frozen in time: Glacial archaeology on the roof of Norway

January 23, 2018

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing people today and year on year the melting of glacial ice patches in Scandinavia, the Alps and North America reveals and then destroys vital archaeological records ...

First quantifiable observation of cloud seeding

January 23, 2018

A University of Wyoming researcher contributed to a paper that demonstrated, for the first time, direct observation of cloud seeding—from the growth of the ice crystals through the processes that occur in the clouds to ...

So much depends on a tree guard

January 23, 2018

In a big city, trees, like people, like their space. In a new study, researchers at Columbia University found that street trees protected by guards that stopped passersby from trampling the surrounding soil absorbed runoff ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.