May 24, 2006

The Effects of Global Climate Change on Antarctica

While polar bears drown in the north from melting ice, the entire marine ecosystem of Antarctica is in real danger of collapsing.

As the following video explains (from the Via Antarctica podcast series), the temperature in the Antarctic has risen by three degrees Centigrade in 25 years, which is causing the sea ice to melt. Sea ice is responsible for insulating the foundation organisms of the Antarctic marine ecosystem, diatoms and algae.

No more sea ice - no more diatoms & algae - no more krill - no more Adele penguins.

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Update (5/25): According to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the sea ice has decreased around Antarctica from about 12 to 20 percent in the past 50 years.

This is not only affecting the Adele penguins, as I said before, but is also disturbing the breeding patterns of other sea birds that roost in the area.


  1. But, how does this fit into the pattern. Haven't there been warm ups as wellas cool downs through out the ages?

  2. Of course. It is cyclic, to an extent. Since the industrial age, we have pumped CO2 and other heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere at an accelerated rate.

    The thing is, we are definitely contributing to the climate change, and cutting emissions can only help the situation, even if it turns out that the process is purely cyclic.

  3. I heartily agree that we as humans can and should reduce how much we affect the Earth's atmosphere but remember we're not the only creatures with toxic emissions.

    Climates have risen and fallen over thousands of years to varying degrees and in the end it goes back to what you said not long ago about survival of the fittest.

  4. We are the only organisms that emit "toxic emissions" on a scale large enough cause climate change.

    Just because it has happened before does not justify the destruction of entire ecosystems. With our understanding of just how delicately interwoven natural systems are, we should be taking steps to withdraw our most harmful influences on the environment, and place legislative barriers against future complications.

    Grommie, I don't understand how it goes back to survival of the fittest. That makes it sound like evolution is a contest. Please clarify.

  5. RE: survival of the fittest, I simply meant that organisms (single or multi-celled) that adapt to changing climates are the ones that will survive. If the Adele penguins no longer have the preferred food source, it's likely (though not a guarantee, of course) they will turn to some other food source before the entire breed is destroyed.

    And yes, evolution IS a contest. Just ask Neanderthal.

  6. Grommie:

    I think you missed the original point in this post. Without the fundamental organisms (diatoms and other microbes) that breed under the insulation of the sea ice, the entire food source (krill) for the Adeles (and many other sea birds) will disappear. It is not likely that Antarctic sea birds that have bred in those areas for millennia will just happen upon a new food source. The Antarctic is notoriously bare.

    Evolution is not a contest. It is a long, unending series of genetic experiments, constantly testing new forms and makeups.

    Neaderthals didn't "lose" some sort of evolutionary lottery, just as we Homo sapiens haven't "won"; we are merely the latest experiment in primate evolution.

    Calling evolution a contest is minimizing its complexities and anthropomorphizing natural processes, a definite scientific no-no.

    I suggest you do a bit more reading on the subject before making inflated statements of "fact," perhaps starting with books from this man, E.O. Wilson:

    "Few will doubt that humankind has created a planet-sized problem for itself. No one wished it so, but we are the first species to become a geophysical force, altering Earth's climate, a role previously reserved for tectonics, sun flares, and glacial cycles. We are also the greatest destroyer of life since the ten-kilometer-wide meteorite that landed near Yucatan and ended the Age of Reptiles sixty-five million years ago. Through overpopulation we have put ourselves in danger of running out of food and water. So a very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic."

    From Consilience