Oceanographers are calling for more ocean-observing in the Antarctic, particularly in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, or WAP.

This mountainous arm of the continent stretches north toward South America.

In a paper published in Science, the authors argue that research in this region is imperative: The WAP’s climate, they say, is changing faster than the climate in the rest of the continent, while Antarctica’s climate is changing faster than anywhere else on the planet.

The scientists observe that 87 percent of the peninsula’s glaciers are in retreat, the ice season has shortened by 90 days, and perennial sea ice is no longer a feature of this environment. They also point out that these changes are accelerating.

Until recently, most oceanographic research in the Antarctic was done from government-funded ships. Ships are expensive, limited by harsh weather, and only useful during the Antarctic summer. Scientists also have been using satellite data for the past 30 years, but since the Antarctic is often cloud-covered, such data are often incomplete.

Climate change will alter marine ecosystems; however, the complexity of the food webs, combined with chronic undersampling, constrains efforts to predict their future and to protect marine resources. Sustained observations at the West Antarctic Peninsula show that in this region, rapid environmental change has coincided with shifts in the food web, from its base up to top-level predators. New strategies are needed to gain further insight into how the marine climate system has influenced such changes and how it will do so in the future. Oscar Schofield of Rutgers University, and his colleagues, suggest robotic networks, satellites, ships and instruments mounted on animals and ice should collect data needed to improve numerical models that can then be used to study the future of polar ecosystems as climate change progresses.

Further Reading:
How Do Polar Marine Ecosystems Respond to Rapid Climate Change? Schofield et al. Science 18 June 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5985, pp. 1520 – 1523 pp. 1520 – 1523
Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey