Climate change impacts in Antarctica

Climate change impacts in Antarctica - what the IPCC 4th Assessment Report has found:
  • The Antarctic pearlwort and the Antarctic hair grass currently occur in niche habitats on the Antarctic continent. Their increased abundance and distribution was ascribed to the increasing summer temperatures. Climate change is also affecting the vegetation, which is largely composed of algae, lichens and mosses, and changes are expected in future, as temperature, and water and nutrient availability change [15.2.2.1].
  • The progressive warming in the Southern Ocean has been associated with major regional changes in terrestrial and marine ecosystems, in areas that have experienced warming. Increasing abundance of shallow water sponges and their predators, declining abundances of krill (with an increase in salp abundance), Adelie and Emperor penguins and Weddell seals have all been recorded [TS4.2, 1.3.4.2 & 15.2.2.1].
  • Pelagic productivity/Zooplankton abundance/plankton assemblages: Biological responses to regional changes in temperature, stratification, up-welling, and other hydro-climatic changes in the Southern Ocean [1.3.4.3].
  • Direct measurements reveal considerable spatial variability in temperature trends in Antarctica [15.2.1]
  • Changes on the Antarctic Peninsula, subAntarctic islands and Southern Ocean have been rapid and dramatic impacts are expected [TS4.2]:
  • Pole-ward migration of existing species and competition from invading species [TS4.2]
  • There is evidence for freshening in the Ross Sea, probably linked to glacier melt [1.3.1.1].
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Sylvia Rubli
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change recently warned that sea ice would shrink in both poles by the end of the century. Tabular iceberg. Scotia Sea, Antarctica.
© WWF-Canon / Sylvia Rubli

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See also: Polar Regions

WWF's work

What WWF is doing on the ground in Antarctica to protect against climate change:
WWF International's new Climate Change and Antarctic Focal Project is turning the spotlight on to the highly visable impacts of climate change down at the bottom of the world.

Current work consists of researching and developing high-profile report on the plight of penguins - a charismatic species akin to the polar bear in the Arctic. WWF will also be attending the Antarctic Treaty Convention Meeting in May to monitoring the climate change discussions which have started being tabled by many Treaty States.
 
The Antarctic Focal Project will continue for the next three years and will produce two scientific reports on climate change impacts in Antarctica (marine and terrestrial), additional outreach communication tools (using the successful WWF Climate Witness model) and in conjunction with the Marine and Species team's Antarctic and Southern Oceans Initiative (ASOI) develop a international event on the Antarctic.

This Focal Project aims to kick start adaptation/ resilience strategies in the region. The Focal Project also works closely with ASOI on key areas of synergy around adaptation requirements in marine protected areas and the climate change impacts on krill, other marine species.

Combined, these products will provide the WWF network with effective and compelling communications tools to rapidly reduce greenhouse emissions, akin to the successful WWF Arctic Focal Project.

Climate Witnesses

WWF runs the Climate Witness programme to collect people's local observations of climate change that are then verified by scientists.

Robert Swan is a polar explorer who has been venturing to the Antarctic since 1985. He saw the Larsen B ice shelf shear off from the mainland, and over 500 billion tonnes of ice disintegrate into the sea. On certain islands the glaciers are retreating, which means they start their hikes up higher every year.

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