Climate change impacts are likely to be the most significant threats to Antarctic ecosystems in the immediate future, say researchers from Monash University in Australia.
In an article published in Science, the team set out the emerging trends impacting what was just a century ago, one of the Earth’s last frontiers.
Climate change impacts, including regional warming, ocean acidification and changes in sea-ice distribution are the most immediate worries to species, ecosystems and resources in the Antarctic according to the researchers, who say climate change is also increasing alien species in the region.
“Interactions between resource use and climate change are especially significant threats,” said Professor Chown, incoming Head of Biological Science at Monash University. “Climate change is increasing the risk of the introduction of non-indigenous species. Several alien species, which have track records of being highly invasive are already present in the Peninsula region and risks are growing.”
The article also points towards increasing human activity in the region as another potential threat.
The researchers say this will bring more pollution into the region – including that from vessel emergencies, and expect that resource extraction and fishing in the Antarctic will increase as demand grows globally.
The researchers point out that technology for oil, gas and mineral exploitation in such remote regions is advancing rapidly.
Over the longer term, they predict that growing tourism and scientific activities in the region could lead to permanent settlements.
These changes will lead to substantial challenges to the conservation of the Antarctic warn the researchers, and while they say the Antarctic Treaty remains effective to date, swifter decision making and more collaboration will be vital to maintain the treaty’s success and conserve the region.
“The quick pace of change in much of the region is under-appreciated. There’s warming in the Western Antarctic, changing species distributions and a quickening in the rate of ice loss, among other clear signs,” says Professor Chown.
“The early explorers, such as Scott, Mawson and Amundsen would certainly be surprised at what they’d find in Antarctica now and by what’s being discussed as possibilities [for the future].”