Oceanography > Issues > Archive > Volume 26, Number 3

2013, Oceanography 26(3):190–203, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2013.62

West Antarctic Peninsula: An Ice-Dependent Coastal Marine Ecosystem in Transition

Authors | Abstract | Full Article | Citation | References


Hugh W. Ducklow | Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY, USA

William R. Fraser | Polar Oceans Research Group, Sheridan, MT, USA

Michael P. Meredith | British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK, and Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, UK

Sharon E. Stammerjohn | University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, and Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

Scott C. Doney | Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA

Douglas G. Martinson | Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY, USA

Sévrine F. Sailley | Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA

Oscar M. Schofield | Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Deborah K. Steinberg | Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary, Gloucester Pt., VA, USA

Hugh J. Venables | British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK

Charles D. Amsler | University of Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA



The extent, duration, and seasonality of sea ice and glacial discharge strongly influence Antarctic marine ecosystems. Most organisms' life cycles in this region are attuned to ice seasonality. The annual retreat and melting of sea ice in the austral spring stratifies the upper ocean, triggering large phytoplankton blooms. The magnitude of the blooms is proportional to the winter extent of ice cover, which can act as a barrier to wind mixing. Antarctic krill, one of the most abundant metazoan populations on Earth, consume phytoplankton blooms dominated by large diatoms. Krill, in turn, support a large biomass of predators, including penguins, seals, and whales. Human activity has altered even these remote ecosystems. The western Antarctic Peninsula region has warmed by 7°C over the past 50 years, and sea ice duration has declined by almost 100 days since 1978, causing a decrease in phytoplankton productivity in the northern peninsula region. Besides climate change, Antarctic marine systems have been greatly altered by harvesting of the great whales and now krill. It is unclear to what extent the ecosystems we observe today differ from the pristine state.


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Ducklow, H.W., W.R. Fraser, M.P. Meredith, S.E. Stammerjohn, S.C. Doney, D.G. Martinson, S.F. Sailley, O.M. Schofield, D.K. Steinberg, H.J. Venables, and C.D. Amsler. 2013. West Antarctic Peninsula: An ice-dependent coastal marine ecosystem in transition. Oceanography 26(3):190–203, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2013.62.



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