The Changing Climate of the Antarctic Peninsula
Antarctica plays a crucial role in maintaining the global climate.Its immense white surface cools Earth by reflecting light and heat back into space. The Southern Ocean also produces huge expanses of sea ice and cold surface water that sinks and flows around the world at the bottom of the oceans, driving the global ocean conveyor belt.
The Antarctic Peninsula is the region most vulnerable to climate change. Its ice shelves began breaking apart in 2002, when the Rhode Island-sized Larsen B ice shelf split from the continent. The Wilkins ice shelf (roughly the size of Vermont) collapsed into the ocean in 2010.
According to the British Antarctic Survey, the west coast of the peninsula has warmed by nearly 5°F (3° C) since the 1950s. The melting of the peninsula’s glaciers has contributed significantly to the planet’s sea-level rise.
A nutrient-rich ecosystem in peril:
Krill, tiny shrimp-like animals that feed on algae under the sea ice edge, support the Southern Ocean’s entire food chain, which includes penguins, seals, whales, and birds. Once abundant, krill have been steadily declining off the west Antarctic Peninsula as the waters warm. Adélie penguins have also decreased in population.