Melting Ice Offers Window on Polar Ecosystem

Copyright Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research

By Stephen Leahy

Feb 27 (IPS) – The collapse of Antarctic ice shelves due to climate change is providing the first views of marine life hidden deep under the polar ice for more than 5,000 years.

A 10-week Antarctic international expedition to probe the region’s secrets is also the first major scientific effort of the International Polar Year that was officially launched Monday in Paris and London.

The massive ice shelves that fringe the southern continent are hundreds of kilometres in size and a kilometre thick but floating above the sea floor. And strange forms of life survive in the dark, icy depths, previously only glimpsed by scientists through holes drilled through the ice.

“There are all kinds of new life no one has seen before,” said Ron O’Dor, chief scientist of the Census of Marine Life, which organised this and 12 other expeditions as part of its Census of Antarctic Marine Life project.

Warming temperatures led to the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, 12 and five years ago, respectively, exposing a 10,000-sq km portion of the Antarctic seabed for the first time in at least 5,000 years and possibly 12,000 years.

More than 50 scientists from 14 countries spent the last 10 weeks aboard Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute’s research icebreaker Polarstern investigating what may be the most untouched region of the Earth.

“The collapse of the Larsen shelves may tell us about impacts of climate-induced changes on marine biodiversity and the functioning of the ecosystem,” said Julian Gutt, a marine ecologist with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and chief scientist on the Polarstern expedition.

Read complete story Melting Ice Offers Window on Polar Ecosystem

See also recent “curtain raiser” article on the International Polar Year

Questions, story ideas, assignments, speaking engagements contact: writersteve AT gmail . com

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