Killer Icebergs Are Grinding Away Antarctica’s Underwater Wildlife: Researchers

Inspecting the sea floor. Image: British Antarctic Survey

Icebergs released by warming conditions in the Antarctic are scouring shallow seabed boulders and scrubbing away species which once existed there.

Researchers, writing in the journal Current Biology, say boulders on the shallow seabed, which had been encrusted with a rich assemblage of species in intense competition for limited space, now mostly support a single species.

The climate-linked increase in iceberg activity has left all other species so rare as to be almost irrelevant.

“The Antarctic Peninsula can be considered an early warning system, like a canary in a coal mine,” says David Barnes of the British Antarctic Survey.

“Physical changes there are amongst the most extreme and the biology considered quite sensitive, so it was always likely to be a good place to observe impacts of climate change but impacts elsewhere are likely to be not too far behind.

“A lot of the planet depends on the near-shore environment, not least for food; what happens there to make it less stable is important.”

Earlier studies noted an increase in mortality of the pioneer species, Fenstrulina rugula, an unremarkable suspension feeder which belongs to a group sometimes referred to as moss animals.

Barnes and his colleagues suspected those losses would be more widespread.

And in a 2013 survey dive at a nearby spot showed large areas where no live animals could be found, the first time that has been reported despite frequent diving in the area.

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