photo by ¡WOUW! (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

A census on marine life in the Antarctic called The British Antarctic Survey seeks to shed some light on how the wide variety of animals that live on the Antarctic sea floor might react to climate change.

According to the survey, which began in 2005, ‘the Polar Regions are amongst the fastest warming places on Earth’. Changes in winter sea ice levels, ocean acidification and rising temperatures are already reducing the population of krill, an important food source for Arctic penguins, seals and whales. Changes also favor an increase in the amount of jellyfish in the area.

From a BAS press release entitled ‘Understanding global climate change through new breakthroughs in Polar research’:

More than 6,000 different species living on the sea-floor have been identified so far and more than half of these are unique to the icy continent. A combination of long-term monitoring studies, newly gathered information on the marine life distribution and global ocean warming models, enable the scientists to identify Antarctica’s marine ‘biodiversity hotspots’.

The recent Antarctic iceberg collision, which resulted in a large iceberg breaking off from the Mertz Glacier Tongue, also constitutes a threat to wildlife in the region.

According to a BBC News report, global warming had nothing to do with the incident and British scientists have stated that the event should not cause changes in weather patterns or affect the global climate. But there is concern for the local ecosystem, particularly emperor penguin colonies and the local seal population.

“It is a very active area for algae growth, especially in springtime,” explained Dr Neal Young from the Australia-based Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre.

–BBC News

The Mertz Glacier event provides scientist with a rare opportunity for studying ocean circulation and – more importantly – how the events like this influence ocean ecosystems.