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Climate change drives Antarctic fur seal decline

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

Survival of the fittest?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After studying fur seals around Antarctica for decades, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey say they’re seeing distinct genetic changes related to a changing climate and food availability. But despite a shift  towards individuals more suited to changing environmental conditions, this fitness is not passing down through generations, leaving the fur seal population on South Georgia Island in decline. Continue reading

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Can emperor penguins adapt to global warming?

Emperor penguin colonies show up as dark splotches against the white ice near Halley Bay. PHOTO COURTESY DIGITALGLOBE.

Emperor penguin colonies show up as dark splotches against the white ice near Halley Bay. PHOTO COURTESY DIGITALGLOBE.

Recent satellite observations show birds adapting to changes in sea ice

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Emperor penguins living at the edge of their range may be able to find new breeding grounds as their sea-ice breeding habitat dwindles in coming decades.

Recent satellite monitoring shows that the Antarctic birds moved from their traditional sea-ice breeding grounds during years when the thin layer of ice (sea ice) formed later than usual to the much thicker floating ice shelves that surround the continent.

“When they turn up to breed, there needs to be a solid blanket of sea ice,” said British Antarctic Survey researcher Peter Frewell, lead author of the paper published this week in the online journal, PLOS ONE. The research team also included scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego in California. Continue reading

Oceans: Drake Passage seen as mixing ground

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Strong storms help push water through the Drake Passage, and beneath the surface, the surging currents help mix the ocean from top to bottom. bberwyn photo.

Underwater mountains help churn up the ocean, fueling the carbon cycle

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The Drake Passage, between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, is well known for wild storms and big swell, but it turns out that turbulence isn’t just at the surface.

Far beneath the breaking whitecaps, the area is a crucial ocean mixing ground, where surface water is exchanged with deep water as currents rush over undersea mountains. Those mixing of water layers are crucial to regulating the Earth’s climate and ocean currents, according to researchers who recently traced how that mixing happens. Continue reading

Antarctica: Life beneath the ice

Core samples from subglacial lake sediments show surprising biological diversity

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Retreating ice on the Antarctic Peninsula has given scientists an opportunity to search for life in subglacial environments. bberwyn photo

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Burrowing 10 feet down into the primal muck at the edge of a receding ice sheet in Antarctica, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey found what they had long been looking for — traces of microbial life dating back nearly a hundred thousand years, including strands of DNA associated with previously unknown bacteria.

For decades, researchers speculated that so-called extremophiles might exist in the cold and dark lakes hidden deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. Organisms living in subglacial lakes could hold clues for how life might survive  on other planets.

“This is the first time microbes have been identified living in the sediments of a subglacial Antarctic lake and indicates that life can exist and potentially thrive in environments we would consider too extreme,” said lead author David Pearce, who was with the British Antarctic Survey and is now at the University of Northumbria. Continue reading

UK scientists seek to pinpoint West Antarctic ice loss

Robots, seal-mounted instruments and remote-operated subs part of ambitious project to study Pine Island, Thaite glaciers

West Antarctic ice sheets

West Antarctic ice sheets are melting fast, and scientists want to know why. bberwyn photo

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With this year’s Antarctic research season starting to ramp up, a key focus is taking a closer look at ice sheets on the western side of the continent, where rapid ice loss from the Pine Island and Thwaite glaciers could affect sea level worldwide.

A team of researchers led by the British Antarctic Survey aims to discover what’s causing the recent rapid ice loss, and whether this loss will continue to increase or slow down. Continue reading

Global warming: Moss bank core samples from Antarctic Peninsula offer new climate clues

‘Unprecendented rate of ecological change’

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A careful study of moss banks on the Antarctic Peninsula has given researchers a new way to measure global warming impacts. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Finding ways to assess the impacts of global warming in Antarctica isn’t always easy. Measurements of ice help show some of the changes but don’t tell the whole story, so British researchers took a close look at a 150-year-old moss bank on the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth.

The analysis shows an unprecedented rate of ecological change since the 1960s driven by warming temperatures, according to the findings published Aug. 29 in Current Biology. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have increased by up to 0.56 degrees Celsuis per decade since the 1950s. Continue reading

Study eyes global warming impacts on Antarctic krill

Warmer ocean temps could affect productivity

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Animals that depend on krill, like chinstrap penguins, could be affected if global warming affects productivity in the Southern Ocean. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new study suggests that global warming could cut krill habitat by 20 percent — and more in some critical areas where land-based animals like penguins and seals depend on the tiny crustaceans for food.

The research, conducted by a team of scientists with the British Antarctic Survey and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, focused on the effects of warming sea surface temperatures. Continue reading

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