Hundreds of species live in both polar seas, despite an 11,000-kilometer distance in between. So finds the census of Marine Life.

Among many other findings, the scientists also documented evidence of cold waterloving species shifting towards both poles to escape rising ocean temperatures.

“The polar seas, far from being biological deserts, teem with an amazing quantity and variety of life,” says Dr. Ian Poiner, Chair of the Census Scientific Steering Committee.

Researchers say smaller marine species are replacing larger ones in some Arctic waters. The reasons behind the shift are obscure but the implications for the Arctic food web may be profound.

New technologies are dramatically speeding Census research into the abundance, diversity and distribution of marine biodiversity. Census researchers are using cell phone-like devices to learn about the distribution of large animals at both poles. For example, tracking devices fitted to narwhals, to record their Arctic migrations and provide as a byproduct a wealth of rich data on the status of polar oceans. SCUBA divers were deployed for observations in heavy Arctic ice and advanced, deep water optical systems on Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) enabled detailed studies of delicate marine animals too fragile to collect. And DNA sequences, or barcodes, will dramatically accelerate the cataloguing of life’s diversity, helping to identify new and cryptic species.

The polar marine explorers were startled when molecular techniques revealed that glacial cycles over millions of years made the Antarctic the cold incubator of many species residing today in more northern waters.

Scientist theorise that the Antarctic regularly refreshes the world’s oceans with new varieties of sea spiders, isopods (crustaceans related to shrimp and crabs) and others. They believe the new species evolve when expansions of ice cloister Antarctica; when the ice retreats, they radiate northward.

Previously thought to be low in species diversity and abundance, researchers have amassed biological data from nearly 1 million locations. Those places include seafloors exposed to light for the first time in as much as 100,000 years when ancient ice shelf lids melted and disintegrated in recent years.

Further Reading:
Census of Marine Life

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