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Similarly, the circulation of the Southern Ocean iscentral to the global ocean circulation and plays animportant role in the absorption of carbon dioxidefrom the atmosphere, a critical step in the globalcarbon cycle. Changing patterns of annual sea ice inthe Southern Ocean could strongly affect atmo-spheric and oceanic circulation. Improved monitoringand modeling will allow scientists to better under-stand the role of the Southern Ocean in the globalocean system.
What is the response of Antarctic biota and ecosystems to change?
Although recent research has revealed a surprisingdiversity of life forms in Antarctica, even in habitatsonce considered lifeless, Antarctic ecosystems arerelatively simple compared to those in other areas of the globe. This makes it easier to detect the impactsof global climate change and other environmentalchanges in Antarctic ecosystems than it is elsewhereon the planet.Furthermore, Antarctic ecosystems are particu-larly vulnerable to change. The marine andland-based ecosystems of Antarctica and theSouthern Ocean evolved in isolation from the rest of the planet, but recent factors such as the globaltransport of pollutants, the introduction of invasivespecies, and increases in UV radiation are alteringthese communities. Increasing human presence, dueto shing, tourism, and research, has broughtconcerns abouthabitat destruction,overshing, pollu-tion, and other toxiceffects on theenvironment.Of all the humaninuences, human-induced climatechange may havethe largest impact onthe Antarctic region.On land and sea,warming and icemelt will increasethe area of surfacesexposed to theelements, providingnew habitats for colonization by organisms, and potentially alteringthe functioning and structure of ecosystems. For example the recent warming of the AntarcticPeninsula has caused changes in penguin popula-tions. As warming continues, factors such as predation, competition, and pathogens may have agreater inuence on ecosystem functioning than the physical processes that have, until now, dominatedthe region’s ecosystems. Changes in the ecosystemsof the Antarctic region may be a harbinger of thechanges to come elsewhere, and therefore monitoringAntarctic change could allow scientists to better predict future global change.
What role has Antarctica played in changing the planet in the past?
The movement, fragmentation, and collision of Earth’s tectonic plates can have dramatic conse-quences, causing earthquakes and volcanoes,constructing new mountain ranges, opening gate-ways between oceans, and triggering global climateshifts. Evidence from Earth’s past indicates that theAntarctic continent played a central role in previouschanges in Earth’s climate and in atmospheric andoceanic circulation.About 180 million years ago, Gondwana—amassive supercontinent consisting of Antarctica,India, Australia, South America, and Africa—beganto break apart. Antarctica, which at the time wascovered with dense forests inhabited by dinosaursand mammals, started to move toward its present, polar position, opening up new ocean passages andcausing great shifts in the circulation of the ocean and
An Adélie Penguin.
Source: Edward Dunlea
Visiting scientists examine ongoing experimentsat the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological ResearchSite.
Source: Chris Elfring