From Penguins to Plankton–The Dramatic Impacts of Climate Change on the Antarctic Peninsula
Where: The Explorers Club
46 E. 70th St.
212-628-8383 Price: $25
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Public Lecture Series with James B. McClintock
The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions of earth. Over the past 60 years mid-winter air temperatures have increased as much as 10 degrees F. Seawater temperature is also rising as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the world’s largest current, begins to warm. As a result of warming, 87% of the glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are now in recession. Huge ice sheets are disintegrating; the Larson B ice shelf (the size of Rhode Island) broke out in 2002, and now the loss of the even larger Larson C ice shelf, is imminent. While ice sheet break-outs do not result in sea level rise, they do serve as important barriers to ice flowing off the continent and in to the sea. This increasing contribution of continental ice is contributing to rapid global sea level rise.
As the annual sea ice disappears along the Peninsula a variety of marine organisms are being impacted including both the Adelie penguin, which uses the sea ice as a means of reaching rich krill resources, and krill themselves, who exploit the undersurface of the sea ice for refuge and to feed on ice algae. The Adelie penguins are further challenged by unseasonable snow storms spawned by increased humidity associated with climate change. The chick embryos within the eggs drown when the snow melts. Since the mid-1970s, ninety percent of the Adelie penguins have vanished from the central western Antarctic Peninsula.
Other marine life impacted by rapid climate change include the underwater algal forests, the larvae of sponges and soft corals, and the tiniest of phytoplankton. Potentially squandered are marine invertebrates known to harbor cures to cancer, MRSA resistant bacteria, and other human diseases. Nonetheless, despite the challenges of confronting anthropogenic climate change, there is hope for a brighter future. Perhaps the most poignant example is the creation of the Montreal Protocol which regulates the refrigerant chemicals that caused a massive hole in the atmospheric ozone layer over Antarctica. Remarkably, the hole is now predicted to vanish by mid-century.