Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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Figure 16-6: Observed and modeled variation of annual averages of Arctic sea-ice extent, based on Vinnikov et al. (1999). Observed data are from Chapman and Walsh (1993) and Parkinson et al. (1999). Sea-ice curves are produced by GFDL low-resolution R15 climate model and by HADCM2 climate model, both forced by CO2 and aerosols.

An increase in temperature is likely to lead to shifts in species assemblages. Organisms that are unable to tolerate the present low-temperature regime will invade the Southern Ocean. Some that already are there will exhibit increased rates of growth. Predicted reductions in the extent and thickness of sea ice will have ramifications not only for the organisms directly associated with sea ice but also for those that rely on oceanographic processes that are driven by sea-ice production. In the open ocean, there is a correlation between the standing crop and productivity of phytoplankton with wind speed (Dickson et al., 1999). Diatoms—the dominant phytoplanktonic organisms in the Southern Ocean—have high sinking rates and require a turbulent mixed zone to remain in the photic zone. If climate change results in diminution of wind forcing of surface mixing, a reduced biomass of diatoms can be expected. This would lead to less available food for the higher trophic levels and diminution in the vertical flux of carbon and silicon. Together, these effects are likely to have a profound impact on Antarctic organisms at all trophic levels, from algae to the great whales.

Any reduction in sea ice clearly represents a change in habitat for organisms that are dependent on sea ice, such as Crabeater seals and Emperor penguins. Some species of penguins and seals are dependent on krill production. Increased ultraviolet irradiance from ozone depletion is likely to favor the growth of organisms with UV-protecting pigments and/or repair mechanisms (Marchant, 1997; Davidson, 1998). This will lead to a change in species composition and impact trophodynamics and vertical carbon flux. Naganobu et al. (2000) show evidence that ozone depletion impacts directly and indirectly on krill density. The growth, survival, and hatching rates of penguin chicks and seal pups are directly influenced by krill abundance in the sea. Animals that migrate great distances, such as the great whales and seabirds, are subject to possible disruptions in the timing and distribution of their food sources. Contraction of sea ice may alter migration patterns but would not be expected to present a major problem to such mobile animals. Other marine mammals (seals, sea lions) have life histories that tie them to specific geographic features such as pupping beaches, ice fields, or sub-Antarctic islands; they may be more severely affected by changes in the availability of necessary habitats and prey species that result from climate change.

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