The changing ecosystem of Antarctica

Dr. Erasmo Macaya from Chile identified kelp on the beach of Antarctica to have changed, the entire university knew his discovery was significant. The research made at Universidad de Concepcion and Centro IDEAL by an international as well as multi-disciplinary team revealed fresh information about climatic change along with the changes in nature and its forces.

The team identified the shift of about twenty thousand kilometers of the trees from the shore. It is one of the greatest drift recorded in the history of changing the biological ecosystem. 

Kelp passed through several barriers like polar winds and currents, which have been considered impenetrable till now. Antarctica has been considered isolated by the scientists but Kelp has proved that nothing is impossible and Antarctica is not deprived of life.

With global warming, the ecosystem is changing everywhere on Earth, even in Antarctica

"This finding shows us that living plants and animals can reach Antarctica across the ocean, with temperate and sub-Antarctic marine species probably bombarding Antarctic coastlines all the time," said lead author Dr. Cris Fraser from the Australian National University (ANU).

"We always thought Antarctic plants and animals were distinct because they were isolated, but this research suggests these differences are almost entirely due to environmental extremes, not isolation."

According to a fellow author from ANU and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX), Dr. Adele Morrison, who led the oceanographic analyses, strong westerly winds and surface currents are expected to drive floating objects north and away from Antarctica. But when the disruptive influence of Antarctic storms is factored in, that all changes.

Using cutting-edge modeling techniques, the team began to see how large waves arising during storms could help kelp rafts to reach Antarctica.

"Once we incorporated wave-driven surface motion, which is especially pronounced during storms, suddenly some of these biological rafts were able to fetch up on the Antarctic coastline," Dr. Morrison said.

This has important implications for the science of ocean drift that is used to track plastics, airplane crash debris and other floating material across our seas.

Further evidence that helps regularly travel into Antarctic waters came from the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), which observed kelps off the Antarctic Peninsula and East Antarctica.

"These findings could change the way we model oceanic surface movement," said ANU and CLEX co-author Dr. Andy Hogg. "If this wave-driven surface motion - known as Stokes drift - influences the movement of particles around Antarctica, it could be important for other stormy seas too."

DNA samples taken from the kelp revealed that one specimen drifted all the way from the Kerguelen Islands and another from South Georgia. This meant the routes they took to reach Antarctica must have been tens of thousands of kilometers long.

"These are astonishing voyages, but worrying too," Dr. Fraser said. "They show that Antarctic ecosystems could be more vulnerable to global warming than we had suspected,"

"Parts of Antarctica are among the fastest warming places on Earth. If plants and animals get to Antarctica fairly frequently by floating across the ocean, they will be able to establish themselves as soon as the local environment becomes hospitable enough."

It's something co-author Dr. Macaya, who discovered the kelp, recognizes too.

"I knew when I saw this floating seaweed - southern bull kelp - that it was important. The kelp does not grow in Antarctica but we know it can float and can act as a raft, carrying many other intertidal plants and animals with it across oceans," he said.

"If those rafts can make it this far, we could soon see massive changes in Antarctic intertidal ecosystems."