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Climate in Antarctica is of interest to scientists because higher temperatures will affect wildlife and cause sea level rise as ice melts.
Apart from some parts of the Arctic Circle, the West Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming areas on Earth. The tricky thing to understand is how climate is changing. Because Antarctica is a big place, climate change is not happening at the same rate across all of Antarctica. In some places sea ice is growing while in others, sea ice is shrinking.
Antarctica strongly affects the climate of the whole Earth because;
You could find out more about how ocean currents affect climate.
Both the ice sheet and the sea ice are likely to change if temperatures increase, even if the increase is small.
Antarctica is made up of three main regions:
East and West Antarctica are divided by the great Trans-Antarctic Mountains.
The East Antarctic Ice Sheet is in balance as the growth of ice from cold temperatures and snowfall is the same as loss of ice from melting at the edges and the calving of icebergs. So the EAIS is neither growing nor shrinking.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is only one-tenth of the size of EAIS but the WAIS is the ice sheet that has scientists worried - it is shrinking because;
The Antarctic Peninsula is a narrow finger of land that stretches northward into the Southern Ocean.
The Peninsula is only a small part of Antarctica. It is warmer and strongly affected by the sea that surrounds it on three sides.
Due to strong warming, glaciers here are shrinking and adding to sea level rise.
The biggest changes in temperature have been recorded on the Antarctic Peninsula. Temperatures here have increased by up to 3° C since 1950.
Antarctic wildlife will also be affected by climate change. Krill often feed on algae that live underneath sea ice and krill numbers have been dropping around the West Antarctic Peninsula as sea ice has shrunk.
During this field trip you will be looking at how climate change may affect marine animals living in West Antarctica and how a change in sea ice could affect marine food webs. You will investigate whether sea ice algae is an important source of energy that supports animals living in the Ross Sea, including seals and penguins.
Scientists drill into sea ice to measure its thickness.
Most of Antarctica is ice covered and high in elevation. What is the average height of Antarctica? Image: LEARNZ.
Emperor penguins are the only Antarctic penguin to breed in winter. How do you think these penguins would be affected by climate change? Image: LEARNZ.
Weddell seals bask on sea ice near Cape Evans. Why do you think Weddell seals need sea ice? Image: LEARNZ.