Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Computer model predicts vastly different ecosystem in Antarctica's Ross Sea in the coming century

13.03.2014

Rising temperatures and changing wind patterns sure to affect predator-prey relationships, researchers say

The Ross Sea, a major, biologically productive Antarctic ecosystem, "clearly will be extensively modified by future climate change" in the coming decades as rising temperatures and changing wind patterns create longer periods of ice-free open water, affecting the life cycles of both predators and prey, according to a paper published by researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).


Adelie penguins cross ice floes near a lead in the sea ice at Cape Royds.

Credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation

To make their predictions, the researchers used information drawn from the Regional Ocean Modeling System, a computer model of sea-ice, ocean, atmosphere and ice-shelf interactions.

While conceding that "predicting future changes in ecosystems is challenging," the researchers note in a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, the changes predicted by the computer model have the potential to create "significant but unpredictable impacts on the ocean's most pristine ecosystem."

The wind and temperature changes, the authors note, will affect the ecological balance at the base of the Antarctic food web--including changes in distributions of algae, shrimp-like krill and Antarctic silverfish--which, in turn, may be expected to cause disruptions in the upper portions of the food web, including penguins, seals and whales, which depend on those species for food.

A team of four researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) at the College of William and Mary and the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., jointly authored the paper.

Walker O. Smith, Jr., a professor at VIMS and the lead author of the study, said: "The model suggests that the substantial changes in the physical setting of the Ross Sea will induce severe changes in the present food web, changes that are driven by global climate change. Without a doubt the Ross Sea 100 years from now will be a completely different system than we know today."

The research was funded by the Polar Programs (awards: 0838948 and 0944254) and the Ocean Sciences divisions in NSF's Geosciences Directorate.

The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) coordinates all U.S. research on the Southernmost Continent and in the Southern Ocean as well as providing the necessary logistical support for that science. NSF manages the USAP.

The researchers note that over the last 50 years the distribution and extent of Antarctic sea ice, or ice that floats on the ocean surface, have drastically changed. Among these changes are a documented decrease of sea ice in the Bellingshausen-Amundsen sector, but an increase of sea ice in the Ross Sea sector of Antarctica.

Observations show, they write, that "the duration of ice-free days on the Ross Sea continental shelf has decreased by over two months over the past three decades," which may have had effects on the current balance of biological productivity and the roles of various creatures and microscopic plants in the ocean ecosystem.

But, they also note, "future projections of regional air temperature change, however, suggest that substantial warming will occur in the next century in the Ross Sea sector" while wind speeds are predicted to increase in some areas while decreasing in others.

"These changes are expected to reverse the sea-ice trends in the future; however the projected changes in heat content on the continental shelf and ecosystems dynamics that will occur as a result of such changes remain far from certain."

The model, however, indicates that summer sea ice in the Ross Sea could decrease by more than half, or 56 percent, by 2050 and by more than three-quarters, or 78 percent, by 2100. At the same time, the summer mixing of shallow and deep waters in the region as a result of other changes is expected to decrease.

While increased open water would benefit diatoms, the preferred food source of many plant-eating predators such as krill, some krill species, such as crystal krill, prefer a habitat with more ice, which they use as a refuge from predators.

In turn, minke whales, Adelie and Emperor penguins and crabeater seals that feed on crystal krill would have less food available if the crystal krill population were reduced.

With less sea-ice cover, however, more humpback whales could enter the Ross Sea in the summer, increasing krill predation. Adelies, which prey on silverfish at the ice edge, would have to travel further from their nests and, as a result, be potentially more vulnerable to leopard seal predation.

While it is difficult to know specifically what changes the Ross Sea ecosystem will see, the model predictions, if they are accurate, suggest that they are likely to be far-reaching.

"Regardless of the exact nature of the alterations," the researchers write, "substantial portions of the food web that depend on ice in their life cycles will be negatively impacted, leading to severe ecological disruptions."

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7530, pwest@nsf.gov
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators
Walker O. Smith, Jr., Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, (804) 684-7709, wos@vims.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Peter West | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Adelie penguins Antarctic NSF Ocean VIMS cycles ecosystem temperature whales

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Carbon dioxide fertilization greening Earth, study finds
27.04.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Researchers discover fate of melting glacial ice in Greenland
26.04.2016 | University of Georgia

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: ORNL researchers discover new state of water molecule

Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of...

Im Focus: Bionic Lightweight Design researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute at Hannover Messe 2016

Honeycomb structures as the basic building block for industrial applications presented using holo pyramid

Researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) will introduce their latest developments in the field of bionic lightweight design at Hannover Messe from 25...

Im Focus: New world record for fullerene-free polymer solar cells

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). This work is about avoiding costly and unstable fullerenes.

Polymer solar cells can be even cheaper and more reliable thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Linköping University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin glass is up and coming

As one of the leading R&D partners in the development of surface technologies and organic electronics, the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP will be exhibiting its recent achievements in vacuum coating of ultra-thin glass at SVC TechCon 2016 (Booth 846), taking place in Indianapolis / USA from May 9 – 13.

Fraunhofer FEP is an experienced partner for technological developments, known for testing the limits of new materials and for optimization of those materials...

Im Focus: Measuring the heat capacity of condensed light

Liquid water is a very good heat storage medium – anyone with a Thermos bottle knows that. However, as soon as water boils or freezes, its storage capacity drops precipitously. Physicists at the University of Bonn have now observed very similar behavior in a gas of light particles. Their findings can be used, for example, to produce ultra-precise thermometers. The work appears in the prestigious technical journal "Nature Communications".

Water vapor becomes liquid under 100 degrees Celsius – it condenses. Physicists speak of a phase transition. In this process, certain thermodynamic...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

The “AC21 International Forum 2016” is About to Begin

27.04.2016 | Event News

Soft switching combines efficiency and improved electro-magnetic compatibility

15.04.2016 | Event News

Grid-Supportive Buildings Give Boost to Renewable Energy Integration

12.04.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Possible Extragalactic Source of High-Energy Neutrinos

28.04.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

University of Illinois researchers create 1-step graphene patterning method

28.04.2016 | Materials Sciences

Rapid adaptation to a changing environment

28.04.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>