Cold hard facts from Antarctic

Scientists from the Australian Antarctic program have shared their research findings on southern hemisphere climate with other scientists at a special Forum in Hobart.

The Australia-New Zealand Climate Forum, held last week, included presentations on everything from climate change to snails, whales, people, ecosystems and rainfall.

Australian Antarctic scientists joined other Southern Hemisphere scientists to present their research findings on the theme Southern Hemisphere Climate: features, findings, futures.

Dr Donna Roberts of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre discussed the impact of ocean acidification on marine snails, known as ‘pteropods’ or ‘sea butterflies’, in the Southern Ocean.

Her research showed that some pteropods and other shell-forming planktonic organisms were producing thinner and lighter shells compared to their pre-industrial counterparts.

“When atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the Southern Ocean it forms a weak acid when it mixes with water, which reduces the ability of pteropods to form shells,” Dr Roberts said.

“As colder water absorbs more carbon dioxide than warmer water, the effects of ocean acidification will be seen first in the Southern Ocean.

“The impact already observed on shelled pteropods and other marine organisms gives us cause for concern for their survival.”

Biologists from the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Karen Westwood and Dr Simon Wright, also presented research showing detrimental changes in marine microbial communities as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increased.

“Our research indicates that if atmospheric CO2 rises above approximately 780 parts per million – as some models have projected to occur by 2100 – the number and size of certain marine microbes will change, leading to reduced food availability for higher organisms and decreased uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere,” Dr Westwood said.

Ice core and sea ice scientists from the Division also discussed how ice core climate records could be used to understand past and present global climate and to improve climate models for future climate projections.

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