Adélie penguins could be climate change ‘winners’


Adélie penguin populations are growing as Antarctica warms up. @bberwyn photo.

Study shows growing population since end of last ice age

Staff Report

Global warming is expected to take a toll on some penguin populations, but other species could thrive — at least for a while.

Shrinking glaciers are opening new breeding areas for Adélie penguins in East Antarctica, perpetuating a 14,000-year trend of population increases, according to a new study published in the open access journal, BMC Evolutionary Biology. Continue reading

Climate: Study tracks loss of biodiversity near melting Antarctic glaciers


How will global warming affect marine ecosystems around the Antarctic Peninsula? @bberwyn photo.

Increasing sediment load affects bottom-dwelling sea creatures

Staff Report

A series of research dives around the Antarctic Peninsula suggest that melting glaciers are diminishing the region’s biodiversity. Scientists think the main cause may be increased levels of sediment in the water.

Over the past five decades, temperatures have risen nearly five times as rapidly on the western Antarctic Peninsula than the global average. Yet the impacts of the resulting retreat of glaciers on bottom-dwelling organisms remain unclear. Continue reading

Antarctic ice susceptible to climate domino effect

New study says melting of small Amundsen Basin likely to trigger a climate tipping point


The meltdown of West Antarctica’s ice sheets is likely already under way. @berwyn photo.

Staff Report

Just a small shift in the Antarctic climate could have long-lasting consequences on a global scale, according to a new research paper that once again takes a close look at the fate of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Based on the new study, destabilization of the relatively small Amundsen Basin — triggered by a few decades of ocean warming — could trigger a massive ice loss from the West Antarctica Ice Sheet that would raise global sea level by 10 feet. Other recent studies show that this area is already losing stability, making it the first element in the climate system about to tip. Continue reading

Antarctica snowfall may be outpacing glacier melt

Still a few decades from meltdown


Satellite data shows nuance in Antarctica’s global warming equation. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

A new analysis of satellite data suggest that snow accumulation in Antarctica is outpacing the meltdown of glaciers on the frozen continent, at least for now. The findings of the the new NASA research differ from other recent studies, which have found that, overall, Antarctica is losing land ice. Continue reading

Environment: Some countries only paying lip service to Antarctica conservation

Legal analysis finds some countries are abusing an international conservation treaty to justify more Southern Ocean fishing

Increasing concentrations of CO2 could turn this Antarctic beach into a tropical zone. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

Will the world be able to agree on new protection for the Southern Ocean? @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Efforts to set aside protected ocean areas around Antarctica are faltering because some countries are willfully misinterpreting a legal treaty governing the use of resources in the region, according to a new analysis published in the journal Marine Policy.

At issue is the term “rational use” in an international treaty that governs the management of natural resources in the region. Even though the treaty is focused on conservation, some countries are twisting the term to justify unsustainable fishing, said the scientists and legal scholars who published their findings to coincide with a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in Hobart, Tasmania.

The international organization is setting fisheries management rules for the Southern Ocean around Antarctica and also wants to take up the issue of creating vast new marine reserves — but those efforts have been blocked in recent years by Russia and China, who want the freedom to exploit resources unsustainably.

The treaty requires that fishing does not cause irreversible damage to the greater marine ecosystem. While defined in the text of the legal Convention, the term rational use is increasingly being interpreted to mean an unfettered right to fish. Even more surprising, countries such as China and Ukraine have recently invoked rational use to protest the adoption of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.

“Our research into the treaty negotiation record shows that ‘rational use’ on its own did not have a clear, consistent, or objective meaning,” said lead author Jennifer Jacquet, an assistant professor in New York University’s Environmental Studies Program.

“In recent years, some countries have argued that MPAs interfere with their right to rational use,” Brooks said. “Yet adopting MPAs in CCAMLR waters is in complete accordance with stipulations of rational use, which require conservation of the fished species and the greater ecosystem in the Southern Ocean.”

Currently, the main species harvested in the Antarctic are Antarctic krill and Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, also known on the market as the lucrative “Chilean sea bass.”

“The Southern Ocean is a global commons. As such, marine protected areas would allow CCAMLR member states to continue fishing while also ensuring a legacy for future generations,” Brooks said. “What could be more rational than that?”

Climate: Antarctic sea ice extent drops off from record levels reached in recent years

Early October peak was lowest extent since 2008


This year’s maximum Antarctic sea ice extent may have been affected by El Niño. @bberwyn photo.

This year’s El Niño may have been a factor limiting Antarctic sea ice, which peaked on October 6 at the lowest extent since 2008, according to an update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The seasonal maximum extent rached about 7.27 million square miles, falling roughly in the middle of the record of Antarctic maximum extents compiled during the satellite record — in contrast to the past three years, which all set records. Continue reading

Study finds unexpected new Antarctic carbon sink

Global warming is just getting started in the Antarctic region.

Global warming is just getting started in the Antarctic region.

Increased seafloor life seen as negative global warming feedback

Staff Report

Shrinking sea ice around parts of Antarctica has spurred the growth of seafloor life that may help accumulating and bury carbon, researchers reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

“It was a surprise that life had been invisibly responding to climate change for more than a decade below one of the most obviously visible impacts of climate change: the ‘blueing’ poles,” said David Barnes, of the British Antarctic Survey. “We’ve found that a significant area of the planet, more than three million square kilometers, is a considerable carbon sink and, more importantly, a negative feedback on climate change.” Continue reading


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