Antarctic marine explorers reveal first biological changes after collapse of polar ice shelves

Once roofed by ice for millennia, a 10,000 square km portion of the Antarctic seabed represents a true frontier, one of Earth's most pristine marine ecosystems, made suddenly accessible to exploration by the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, 12 and five years ago respectively. Now it has yielded secrets to some 52 marine explorers who accomplished the seabed's first comprehensive biological survey during a 10-week expedition aboard the German research vessel Polarstern.

While their families at home in 14 countries were enjoying New Year's dinners, experts on the powerful icebreaking research ship were logging finds from icy waters as deep as 850 meters off the Antarctic Peninsula an area rapidly changing in fundamental ways. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows nowhere on Earth warming more quickly than this corner of Antarctica, a continent 1.5 times the size of continental USA.

The expedition forms part of the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (www.caml.aq), which has 13 upcoming voyages scheduled during International Polar Year, to be launched in Paris March 1. A project of the global Census of Marine Life (www.coml.org) collaboration, CAML is responsible for the synthesis of taxonomic data and supports the efforts of national programs the world over.

Says CAML leader Michael Stoddart of Australia: "What we learned from the Polarstern expedition is the tip of an iceberg, so to speak. Insights from this and CAML's upcoming International Polar Year voyages will shed light on how climate variations affect ice-affiliated species living in this region."

Leaving South Africa Nov 23, the research icebreaker Polarstern operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research criss-crossed the northwest Weddell Sea. The cruise included the Larsen A and B zones, an area about the size of Jamaica (or half the size of New Jersey, a third the size of Belgium). See map: '"/>

Contact: Terry Collins
Census of Marine Life

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