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Ecological Responses to Climate Change on the Antarctic Peninsula

The peninsula is an icy world that's warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, threatening a rich but delicate biological community

James McClintock, Hugh Ducklow, William Fraser

Figure%201.%20Ad%E9lie%20penguins%20in%20blizzardClick to Enlarge Image

The western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula is home to a thriving biological community that includes bottom-dwelling and free-swimming animals, giant algae much like the kelp of temperate latitudes, marine organisms that shelter under or within sea ice, as well as familiar avian and mammalian predators: penguins, seals and whales. But the peninsular ecosystem is on the threshold of rapid change. Midwinter temperatures have increased by 6 degrees Celsius since the 1950s, sea ice has diminished in extent and longevity, and sea water temperatures are climbing. The loss of ice is detrimental to krill and other organisms at the base of the food chain. A once-common penguin species is in decline on the peninsula, whereas other species are expanding their range. Further warming could allow large predatory crabs to invade the bottom-dwelling community and greatly alter its composition.


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