A group of investigators conducting interdisciplinary research on the oceanography, climatology, meteorology, biology, and ecology of the ice-covered regions on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system.
Responses by marine top predators to environmental variability have previously been almost impossible to observe directly. By using animal-mounted instruments simultaneously recording movements, diving behavior, and in situ oceanographic properties, we studied the behavioral and physiological responses of southern elephant seals to spatial environmental variability throughout their circumpolar range. Improved body condition of seals in the Atlantic sector was associated with Circumpolar Deep Water upwelling regions within the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, whereas High-Salinity Shelf Waters or temperature/salinity gradients under winter pack ice were important in the Indian and Pacific sectors. Energetic consequences of these variations could help explain recently observed population trends, showing the usefulness of this approach in examining the sensitivity of top predators to global and regional-scale climate variability.
Video presented by Shad O'Neel, PhD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as part of the 2008 series &quot;Perspectives on Ocean Science.&quot; Dr. O'Neel provides a tour of coastal glaciers and explains why scientists believe these glaciers' unique behavior will make them one of the largest contributors to sea level rise in the next century. [56:45 min]
In coastal waters the identification of sources, trajectories and deposition sites of marine litter is often hampered by the complex oceanography of shallow shelf seas. We conducted a multi-annual survey on litter at the sea surface and on the seafloor in the south-eastern North Sea. Bottom trawling was identified as a major source of marine litter. Oceanographic modelling revealed that the distribution of floating litter in the North Sea is largely determined by the site of origin of floating objects whereas the trajectories are strongly influenced by wind drag. Methods adopted from species distribution modelling indicated that resuspension of benthic litter and near-bottom transport processes strongly influence the distribution of litter on the seafloor. Major sink regions for floating marine litter were identified at the west coast of Denmark and in the Skagerrak. Our results may support the development of strategies to reduce the pollution of the North Sea.
Seasonal ice cover creates a pool of cold bottom water on the eastern Bering Sea continental shelf each winter. The southern edge of this cold pool, which defines the ecotone between arctic and subarctic communities, has retreated approximately 230 km northward since the early 1980s. Bottom trawl surveys of fish and invertebrates in the southeastern Bering Sea (1982-2006) show a coincident reorganization in community composition by latitude. Survey catches show community-wide northward distribution shifts, and the area formerly covered by the cold pool has seen increases in total biomass, species richness, and average trophic level as subarctic fauna have colonized newly favorable habitats. Warming climate has immediate management implications, as 57% of variability in commercial snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) catch is explained by winter sea ice extent. Several measures of community distribution and structure show linear relationships with bottom temperature, suggesting warming climate as the primary cause of changing biogeography. However, residual variability in distribution not explained by climate shows a strong temporal trend, suggesting that internal community dynamics also contribute to changing biogeography. Variability among taxa in their response to temperature was not explained by commercial status or life history traits, suggesting that species-specific responses to future warming will be difficult to predict.
The Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing one of the fastest rates of regional climate change on Earth, resulting in the collapse of ice shelves, the retreat of glaciers and the exposure of new terrestrial habitat. In the nearby oceanic system, winter sea ice in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas has decreased in extent by 10% per decade, and shortened in seasonal duration. Surface waters have warmed by more than 1 K since the 1950s, and the Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current has also warmed. Of the changes observed in the marine ecosystem of the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region to date, alterations in winter sea ice dynamics are the most likely to have had a direct impact on the marine fauna, principally through shifts in the extent and timing of habitat for ice-associated biota. Warming of seawater at depths below ca 100 m has yet to reach the levels that are biologically significant. Continued warming, or a change in the frequency of the flooding of CDW onto the WAP continental shelf may, however, induce sublethal effects that influence ecological interactions and hence food-web operation. The best evidence for recent changes in the ecosystem may come from organisms which record aspects of their population dynamics in their skeleton (such as molluscs or brachiopods) or where ecological interactions are preserved (such as in encrusting biota of hard substrata). In addition, a southwards shift of marine isotherms may induce a parallel migration of some taxa similar to that observed on land. The complexity of the Southern Ocean food web and the nonlinear nature of many interactions mean that predictions based on short-term studies of a small number of species are likely to be misleading.