Surprising Changes Observed In Sea Life Beneath Antarctic Ice Shelf

Posted: Nov 26 2017, 8:35am CST | by , Updated: Nov 26 2017, 8:43am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Surprising Changes Observed Beneath Antarctic Sea Life
Credit: Patrick Degerman

Climate change may be affecting communities of sea life beneath Antarctic ice shelf, researchers say

Despite being one of the coldest places on Earth, Antarctica harbors many species underneath its ice shelf. Recently, a team of international researchers decided to conduct a study with the aim of learning more about the Antarctica’s sea life and they were surprised to find that the sea life beneath an Antarctic ice shelf has changed dramatically within just few years. This is an evidence of climate change affecting marine animals living in Antarctica’s ecosystem.

“Surprisingly big changes in the coastal seafloor communities have occurred in only a few years. Two days ago, (two of the researchers) did the first dive of the year under the ice in crystal clear water, and much to everyone's surprise, the animal community on the seafloor had changed dramatically since the last visit in 2009.” Patrick Degerman, a Finnish researcher involved in the expedition said.

As a part of the study, researchers dove beneath sea ice at the edge of Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf. They wanted to fingure out how this marine ecosystem beneath Antarctica is responding to climate change. Antarctica has always been a dark and isolated place with a relatively few types of species. During the six-week long expedition, researchers observed that the Antarctic ecosystem has now become more diverse and abundant than ever before.

“The first diver observations show that the changes can be unexpectedly rapid, even in Antarctica, where everything is expected to happen very slowly due to the low temperature, said Degerman.

“What used to be a very stable, sparse and food-deprived animal community on the seafloor under the thick ice in New Harbour is now much richer, with more species and higher densities of animals. Some species rarely observed at this site now appear to be relatively common."

Researchers suggest that changes in the New Harbour ecosystem are probably caused by thinning sea ice that allows more light to filter through and leads to higher animal production. The increase in food availability also contributed to the rapid growth of marine life.

“New Harbour sea ice can go for years without breaking (up), and this multiyear ice can grow up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) thick. When the ice is thick, very little light can penetrate the ice to fuel primary production (for example, algae), and thus food supply to the animals on the seafloor is limited.” Degerman explains.

"The rich community now observed is most likely a rapid response to the sea ice breaking out two years in a row, resulting in more light and higher productivity in the ecosystem. The ice is currently about 3 meters (10 feet) thick."

For the first time, researchers are also recording their entire work of expedition by using five 360-degree video cameras and the video will be released next year after processing.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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