Climate related iceberg activity has massively altered life on the seabed

Climate related iceberg activity has massively altered life on the seabed
An iceberg seen in front of western Adelaide Island. Credit: British Antarctic Survey

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey have found evidence that climate change has fundamentally altered the way that life functions on an Antarctic seabed. A once diverse and complex biological system has become simplified and weak, due to frequent damage from icebergs. This example demonstrates how environmental change can alter the way species interact with each other, affecting biodiversity and ecosystem stability.

The findings, published today in Current Biology, show the first indication that is altering an entire biological system. The Antarctic Peninsula is a good place to observe the impacts of climate change. Physical changes there are amongst the most extreme in the world, and the biology is quite sensitive. It also experiences very little other and so acts as a natural laboratory.

Over the last two decades regional warming has caused the sea to freeze for less and less time each winter. This allows drifting icebergs to move around more freely, increasing the number of collisions between them and the seabed, and making it harder for life on the seabed to recover, grow and breed. The result is that one particularly fast growing species is overtaking the others and is now dominating the environment, reducing a once complex network of many competing species to one of the simplest systems found anywhere on the seabed. In general, more competition between species in a system makes it stable and so it functions better. A good functioning biological system is needed to maintain biodiversity and productivity.

Lead author, Dr David Barnes from the British Antarctic Survey said:

"A decade ago life in the shallows beside Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula was a of many species competing for space, but gradually this patchwork quilt of life has involved fewer and fewer competitors. Now it all revolves around a single species. This means specialist predators will now have less food and the biological system is less stable, and thus more susceptible to environmental change."

Climate related iceberg activity has massively altered life on the seabed
Fenstrulina rugula - the study found this species to be dominating the seabed. Credit: David Barnes

The impacts seen here are likely to be replicated elsewhere as more widespread and intense physical change occurs; throughout the world we can already see some form of climate change 'squeeze' on biological systems. For example, drier land in Australia makes bushfires more likely. The species that can cope with frequent burning are more likely to do well and dominate, changing the way the in this system interact.

Studying the Antarctic seabed gives an indication of how the rest of the world will be affected by . This research allows scientists to see what happens when a biological system collapses due to climate change.

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Antarctic species dwindle as icebergs batter shores year-round

More information: "Climate-linked iceberg activity massively reduces spatial competition in Antarctic shallow waters." David K.A. Barnes, Mairi Fenton, Ashley Cordingley, Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 12, pR553–R554, 16 June 2014. DOI:
Journal information: Current Biology

Citation: Climate related iceberg activity has massively altered life on the seabed (2014, June 17) retrieved 25 June 2019 from
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Jun 17, 2014
Anyone paying attention is aware that climate has always changed. The uptrend accompanying the Industrial Revolution began at the depths of the Little Ice Age (approximately 1700) and progressed fairly steadily through the 20th century. It became known as Global Warming (GW) during the comparatively steep rise in the last quarter of the 20th century.

GW ended before 2001. Measured average global temperature trend since 2001 has been flat (average of the 5 reporting agencies) and is 0.3 K less than 'consensus' predictions. That 0.3 K that didn't happen is 40% of the total rise in the 20th century. Meanwhile, since 2001, the CO2 level has increased by 30% of the total increase 1800-2001.

Two natural drivers have been identified that explain measured average global temperatures since before 1900 with 95% correlation. CO2 change is not one of them.

The drivers and a graph of what they predict are given at

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