Solve Antarctica’s sea-ice puzzle

NASA mar2017 southpoleseaice max minIn a Nature Comment out today (20 July 2017), John Turner, Chair of SCAR’s Antarctic Climate Change and Environment Expert Group, and colleague Josefino Comiso “call for a coordinated push to crack the baffling rise and fall of sea ice around Antarctica.” The authors put forward some questions that are important keys to increasing our understanding of and ability to predict changes in Antarctic sea ice and suggest efforts that could help answer them.

The paper also goes on to mention the need for more coordination: “Some gaps in our knowledge can be filled through nationally funded research. More demanding cross-disciplinary work must be supported through international collaboration. Leading the way are organizations such as the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, the World Climate Research Programme’s Climate and Cryosphere project and the Past Global Changes project. But essential work remains to be done, including: more detailed model comparisons and assessments; more research cruises; and the continuity and enhancement of satellite observing programmes relevant to sea ice. These organizations should partner with funding agencies to make that happen.”

The paper is open access and can be downloaded here:

Turner, J and J Comiso. Solve Antarctica’s sea-ice puzzle. Nature 547, 275–277 (20 July 2017) doi:10.1038/547275a

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History of Antarctic deglaciation reveals importance of ocean influence

1AVdP ice shelf edge 760x360A recent article in Nature has demonstrated the dominant role of ocean forcing in driving West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) deglaciation. The evidence presented demonstrates this control both in records of past deglaciation (from 10,400 years ago until 7,500 years ago) and also in the deglaciation being observed at present, dating back to the 1940’s.

The results from the study show that warm Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) incursions cause melting of the underside of floating ice-shelves. This provides empirical evidence that is crucial for validating assumptions in numerical models. Such validation increases confidence in the predictive capability of current ice-sheet models, and points to the impact on future global sea-level rise from the Antarctic ice sheets.

Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, James A. Smith, David A. Hodell, Mervyn Greaves, Christopher R. Poole, Sev Kender, Mark Williams, Thorbjørn Joest Andersen, Patrycja E. Jernas, Henry Elderfield, Johann P. Klages, Stephen J. Roberts, Karsten Gohl, Robert D. Larter & Gerhard Kuhn, “West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat driven by Holocene warm water incursions”, Nature 547, 43–48, July 2017.

DOI: 10.1038/nature22995

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Sea ice modelling improved by including effects of falling snow

1AVdP sea ice interface 760x360A recent study has demonstrated that including consideration of the radiative effects of falling snow can improve simulations of Antarctic sea-ice. These improvements can increase confidence in projected Antarctic sea level contributions and changes in global warming driven by long-term changes in Southern Ocean feedbacks.

To address common disagreements between observations and modelled sea-ice cover the authors included the radiative effects in the CESM1 model. The results reduced differences between models and measurements mainly due to increased wintertime longwave heating restricting sea-ice growth and so reducing summer albedo.

Jui-Lin Li, Mark Richardson, Yulan Hong, Wei-Liang Lee, Yi-Hui Wang, Jia-Yuh Yu, Eric Fetzer, Graeme Stephens, Yinghui Liu, “Improved simulation of Antarctic sea ice due to the radiative effects of falling snow”, Environ. Res. Lett., 2017.

DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa7a17

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Not so good vibrations for Polar supply and research vessel crews

1AVdP choppy ocean 760x360A new study has investigated the levels of whole-body vibration exposure associated with open water and ice passage of a Polar Supply and Research Vessel. The authors found that in comparison with sailing in calm water, whole-body vibration exposure increased by 21 times in rough open water and up to elevenfold during ice-passage.

64 days of vibration data were recorded on the Bridge and in the Operations Room of the S.A. Agulhas II Polar Supply and Research Vessel during a relief voyage for the South African National Antarctic Programme. The measurements provide a comfort benchmark for the design and evaluation of future polar research vessels in operational conditions.

A. Bekker, K.I. Soal, K.J. McMahon, “Whole-body vibration exposure on board a Polar Supply and Research Vessel in open water and in ice”, Cold Regions Science and Technology, June 2017.

DOI: 10.1016/j.coldregions.2017.06.008

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Surface melting in West Antarctica linked to the influence of a strong El Niño event

1WAIS melt el ninoA recent report in Nature has presented evidence for a link between an extended period of surface melt on the Ross Rea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and a strong El Niño event which resulted in warm marine air being directed to the sector.

The authors point to the importance of understanding the mechanisms involved to be able to gauge the future impacts on WAIS. Currently model results are inconclusive as to whether surface melting will make a significant contribution to WAIS instability in the twenty-first century. However, the number of strong El Niño events is projected to increase through the century. Studies of this type could therefore be a precursor to the future climate of West Antarctica.

Julien P. Nicolas, Andrew M. Vogelmann, Ryan C. Scott, Aaron B. Wilson, Maria P. Cadeddu, David H. Bromwich, Johannes Verlinde, Dan Lubin, Lynn M. Russell, Colin Jenkinson, Heath H. Powers, Maciej Ryczek, Gregory Stone & Jonathan D. Wille, “January 2016 extensive summer melt in West Antarctica favoured by strong El Niño”, Nature Communications 8, 2017.

DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15799

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Explaining the prospects for a West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse

1AVdP ice sheet breakup 760x360The 2016 SCAR Weypecht Lecturer, Prof Christina Hulbe, has recently published a Perspectives article in Science on the current understanding around the likelihood of a collapse in the West Antarctica Ice Sheet (WAIS) and its implications.

Despite the extensive observations gathered since the vulnerability of the WAIS was first identified 40 years ago, model projections of the future rate of change can vary by a factor of ten. It is clear that in order to be able to plan for future climate scenarios, and potential sea level rises, the uncertainties in projections needs to be reduced. Christina identifies areas where both observations and modelling need to be improved to address these issues.

Christina Hulbe, “Is ice sheet collapse in West Antarctica unstoppable?”, Science 356, 6341, 2017.

DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9728

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New volcanoes identified under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

1Volcanoes Fig2A team from the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, has identified 138 volcanoes, 91 of which were newly identified, under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Improving our understanding of subglacial volcanic activity across the province is important both for helping to constrain how volcanism and rifting may have influenced ice-sheet growth and decay over previous glacial cycles, and in light of concerns over whether enhanced geo- thermal heat fluxes and subglacial melting may contribute to instability of the WAIS.

The WAIS overlies the ice-covered West Antarctic Rift System for which we have limited knowledge of volcanic activity and extent. The team used ice-sheet bed-elevation data, mainly from the BEDMAP-2 digitial elevation model (a SCAR Product), to locate individual conical edifices protruding upwards into the ice across West Antarctica. They used aeromagnetic, aerogravity, satellite imagery and databases of confirmed volcanoes to support their interpretation. The overall result constitutes a first inventory of West Antarctica’s subglacial volcanism. The volcanoes are especially concentrated and orientated along the >3000 km central axis of the West Antarctic Rift System.

Maximillian Van Wyk de Vries, Robert G. Bingham & Andrew S. Hein, A new volcanic province: an inventory of subglacial volcanoes in West Antarctica, from Exploration of Subsurface Antarctica: Uncovering Past Changes and Modern Processes. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 461 (2017).

DOI: 10.1144/SP461.7

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A retrospective review of the impact of extended darkness on overwinterers in Antarctica prior to 2003

1AVdP working 760x360A recent retrospective review of the effect of extended periods of daylight and darkness on those living at the British Antarctic Survey operated Halley Research Station prior to 2003 has been published. Living for extended periods in Antarctica exposes base personnel to extremes of daylength (photoperiod) and temperature. Photoperiod is the major time cue governing the timing of seasonal events such as reproduction in many species and when overwintering a strong seasonal and circadian(24hr) time cue is absent. Sleep, alertness and waking performance are critically dependent on optimum circadian phase.

The results were based on a series of studies regarding human seasonal and circadian status, and the effects of light treatment, in the small overwintering, isolated community, living in the same conditions for many months at Halley, prior to 2003. Little evidence was found of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or change in duration of melatonin production with season, however the timing of the melatonin rhythm itself was altered. The findings provide groundwork for dealing with the impact of the changes to photoperiod.

Josephine Arendt, Benita Middleton, Human seasonal and circadian studies in Antarctica (Halley, 75°S), General and Comparative Endocrinology, 2017.

DOI: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2017.05.010

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Researchers find recent rapid warming leads to a greener Antarctica

1Peninsula moss sitesIn a recent publication by Amesbury et al. it has been found that biological activity at three sites on the Antarctic Peninsula has increased significantly in the last 50 years. The results, based on moss growth measurements dating back 150 years, indicate a response to recent climate change, identified through temperature records at the sites.

The authors suggest fundamental and widespread changes can be expected in the Antarctic terrestrial biosphere, with future warming leading to an Antarctic greening which would parallel that observed in the Arctic.

Matthew J. Amesbury, Thomas P. Roland, Jessica Royles, Dominic A. Hodgson, Peter Convey, Howard Griffiths, Dan J. Charman, “Widespread Biological Response to Rapid Warming on the Antarctic Peninsula”, Current Biology, 27, 2017.

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.04.034

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Unique cosmic ray measurements above Antarctica from balloon-borne ANITA experiment

1 anita payloadIn a recent publication, Daniel García-Fernández and colleagues have used measurements from a balloon-borne antenna array to produce a cosmic ray flux spectrum. For the first time the spectra were produced using the radio technique exclusively, avoiding the need to carry e.g. plastic stacks to record cosmic ray tracks.

Their results were produced from the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment, which consists of an aerostatic balloon flying 37km above Antarctica and carrying a payload consisting of an array of radio antennas.

While ANITA was designed to detect the electric field of neutrino-induced showers in the ice cap, using data from the first 3 ANITA flights between 2006 and 2014, 16 radio pulses were detected coming from extensive air showers induced by cosmic rays, and these data were used to produce the cosmic ray flux measurements.

These measurements will help investigate the relationship between solar activity and cosmic ray flux as well as the role of cosmic rays in the chemistry leading to ozone depletion.

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Expedition aims to discover why sea ice in Antarctica is expanding

Icebreaker Nathaniel B PalmerIn the first winter research voyage into the Ross Sea in nearly 20 years a 2-month expedition left Lyttelton, New Zealand on April 10th. The Polynyas, ice production, and seasonal evolution in the Ross Sea (PIPERS) cruise will investigate why sea ice in the Ross Sea polynya and environs have expanded even as ice packs in the Arctic and some other parts of Antarctica have shrunk.

The two dozen scientists, aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 94-meter-long U.S. icebreaker, are led by Antarctic Sea-Ice Process and Climate (ASPeCT) co-Chair Steve Ackley as Chief Scientist. In the course of the expedition they will be chasing 60 mph winds, blowing ice, snow and sea spray in 24 hour darkness to better understand the role of polynyas in the dead of winter.

The cruise was recently highlighted in Science, including commentary from the other ASPeCt co-Chair, Marilyn Raphael.

ASPeCt is an Expert Group on multi-disciplinary Antarctic sea ice zone research within the SCAR Physical Sciences Group and is co-sponsored by the Climate and Cryosphere project (CliC). Established in 1996, ASPeCt has the key objective of improving our understanding of the Antarctic sea ice zone through focussed and ongoing field programs, remote sensing and numerical modelling.

Science 21 Apr 2017: “Polar Research: Scientists hope risky winter voyage yields icy rewards” Vol. 356, Issue 6335, pp. 234-235.

DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6335.234

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Researchers identify the source of the spectacular Blood Falls

1BloodFalls0155 1320x880Blood Falls is a famous iron-rich outflow of water that scientists suspected was connected to a water source that may have been trapped under Taylor Glacier, an outlet glacier of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, for more than a million years.

Geoscientist Thomas Griffith Taylor discovered Blood Falls in 1911, and it is famous for its sporadic releases of iron-rich salty water (brine). The brine turns red when the iron contacts air.

A research team led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College have used radio echo sounding to link Blood Falls to a large source of brine injected into the ice through through a network of subglacial crevasses.

The team’s study, published in the Journal of Glaciology, describes the brine’s 300-foot path from beneath Taylor Glacier to the waterfall.

An interview about the research with Erin Pettit can be see here.

Jessica A. Badgeley, Erin C. Pettit, Christina G. Carr, Slawek Tulaczyk, Jill A. Mikucki and W. Berry Lyons, “An Englacial Hydrologic System of Brine Within a Cold Glacier: Blood Falls, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica,” Journal of Glaciology, April 24, 2017.

DOI: 10.1017/jog.2017.16

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Discovery of Fragrance Materials in the seawater of Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica

7 April 2017:

1Mario Zucchelli Station Terra Nova Bay AntarcticaA recent study has reported the first detection of Fragrance Materials (FM) in the Antarctic environment. The measurements were made of FM concentrations in the surface seawater of Terra Nova Bay in the Ross Sea. The discovery was made as part of a wider program of measurements of Personal Care Products (PCPs), pollutants whose distribution in the Antarctic is still largely unknown. While some of the FMs were identified in the treated discharges from the Italian research station Mario Zucchelli, the total concentration of FMs were found to vary during the seasonal melting of the sea ice.

The authors suggest that variability in emissions and distribution as well as atmospheric transport processes may play a role in the variations of FM concentration. They point to the need for future studies to investigate the environmental fate of the substances and transport processes to ensure protection of the fragile Antarctic marine ecosystem. Studying how next-generation contaminants will affect Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems was identified as high priority during the SCAR Horizon Scan.

Marco Vecchiato, Elena Gregoris, Elena Barbaro, Carlo Barbante, Rossano Piazza, Andrea Gambaro, “Fragrances in the seawater of Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica”, Science of the Total Environment, 593-594, 2017.

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Analysis of the distribution of Antarctic protected areas

29 March 2017:

1Signed map NZ USA Chair smallA recent study has analysed the Antarctic protected areas system (APAS) and found that it remains largely unsystematic and underdeveloped. APAS is legislated through the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention on the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The system has operated for over 50 years through multi-national agreement by consensus but the rate of protected area designation has almost halved in the past 10 years. The authors suggest that the early engagement of Parties in collaborative area protection may strengthen APAS and help safeguard the continent’s values for the future. They note that insights from the APAS could translate to area protection for regions as diverse as the high seas and outer space.

Kevin A. Hughes and Susie M. Grant, “The spatial distribution of Antarctica’s protected areas: A product of pragmatism, geopolitics or conservation need?”, Environmental Science & Policy, 72, 2017.

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First Antarctic shelf seabed drilling: drill cores from the Amundsen Sea Embayment

- contributed by Karsten Gohl, PAIS Steering Committee member

1MeBo drill1 photo by GohlThe Amundsen Sea Embayment is currently undergoing a large and rapid ice mass loss that could trigger a partial or full collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Is this ice sheet retreat a phenomenon that always happened in this region at warm times in the geological past?

For the first time in Antarctic waters, a seabed drill – the MeBo70 – was used on RV Polarstern expedition PS104. From February to mid-March 2017, drill cores of sediments and sedimentary rocks were collected from up to 36 m below the sea floor at various sites on the Amundsen Sea shelf. The samples will help reveal the ice sheet history from early glaciation to retreat since the last glacial maximum and, thereby, will provide answers to many of the SCAR priority questions concerning Antarctic ice sheets and sea level.

In addition to collecting drill samples, this expedition provided valuable experience on using a seabed drill device in Antarctica’s specific ice, weather and lithological conditions. This project is directly linked to the SCAR Scientific Research Programme Past Antarctic Ice Sheet Dynamics (PAIS).


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Iron from surface glacial meltwater - more important for Southern Ocean productivity than previously thought

1ncomms14499 f1

27 March 2017:

Iron is a limiting nutrient for phytoplankton and is the base of the marine food chain. In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, icebergs are thought to be the dominant source of glacial iron and provide local fertilization that stimulates phytoplankton blooms.

A recent study by Hodson et al. in Nature Communications however shows that surface runoff from glaciers on 3 small islands export more iron than that from icebergs. As the climate warms, these meltwater streams and their iron export could become even more influential on the productivity of Antarctic marine ecosystems.

Andy Hodson, Aga Nowak, Marie Sabacka, Anne Jungblut, Francisco Navarro, David Pearce, María Luisa Ávila-Jiménez, Peter Convey & Gonçalo Vieira, “Climatically sensitive transfer of iron to maritime Antarctic ecosystems by surface runoff.” Nat. Commun. 8, 14499 (2017). doi: 10.1038/ncomms14499

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First evidence of Avian flu in Antarctic Giant Petrels

17 March 2017:

1Giant petrel with chicksSampling of 299 Southern Giant Petrel in Antarctica has revealed the first evidence of avian influenza virus H4N7 for this species in one of the samples. Viral connections between North America and the Antarctic Peninsula were evidenced through the genetic similarity of the sequenced virus. A geolocator was retrieved from the individual infected Petrel and revealed that it migrated in the non-breeding season to an area near South America and the Falkland Islands. This area is coincident with the migratory routes of several species in which avian influenza virus has been detected. As a result the authors point to monitoring the Southern Giant Petrel as a means to determine potential points of contact with other coastal seabird species and the assessment of dispersal routes of viruses.

Elisa de Souza Petersen, Jansen de Araujo, Lucas Krüger, Marina M. Seixas, Tatiana Ometto, Luciano M. Thomazelli, David Walker, Edison Luiz Durigon, Maria Virginia Petry, “First detection of avian influenza virus (H4N7) in Giant Petrel monitored by geolocators in the Antarctic region” , Mar Biol (2017) 164: 62. doi:10.1007/s00227-017-3086-0

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Multi-national Collaboration Aides Understanding of Antarctic benthic biodiversity response to climate change

17 March 2017:

1Diver e1449219342294 1319x600A collaborative effort between the UK, Argentina and Germany has investigated benthic ecosystem response to physical impacts resulting from rapid recent climate change in the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Ice scouring as a result of the changes was found to be causing increased benthic disturbance at Rothera Station and the studies were replicated at Signy and Carlini Stations. As the studies depend on SCUBA diving, a very spatially limited technique, they are difficult to scale up. The team believe that such international collaborations are the way forward towards understanding the big picture of biota responses to physical climate changes at a regional scale.

D. Deregibus, M.L. Quartino, K. Zacher, G.L. Campana and D.K.A. Barnes, “Understanding the link between sea ice, ice scour and Antarctic benthic biodiversity–the need for cross-station and international collaboration”, Polar Record, 2017.

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WMO verifies Antarctic temperature extremes

9 March 2017:

1 Arizona State University SchoolThe World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Commission for Climatology international evaluation committee has verified record temperatures for three defined Antarctic Regions, with the aim of increasing understanding of the Antarctic’s distinct climatic regimes.

The “Antarctica Region” has been defined by the WMO as all land and ice south of 60°S and a record high of 19.8 °C has been established for this region from Signy Island on 30 January 1982. For the “Antarctic Continent” region, defined as the main continental landmass and adjoining islands, the record is 17.5 °C (from Esperanza Station on 24 March 2015) and for the “Antarctic Plateau”, defined as at or above 2500 meters, the record high is -7.0 °C (from the D-80 Weather Station on 28 December 1989).

The extremes have been identified based on only those events with available high-quality ground-based data. It is possible, and likely, that greater extremes have occurred in the Antarctic Region.

The full WMO press release can be found here and the full details of the assessment can be found in this article in EOS.

Maria de Los Milagros Skansi, John King, Matthew A. Lazzara, Randall S. Cerveny, Jose Luis Stella, Susan Solomon, Phil Jones, David Bromwich, James Renwick, Christopher C. Burt, Thomas C. Peterson, Manola Brunet, Fatima Driouech, Russell Vose, and Daniel Krahenbuhl, “Evaluating highest-temperature extremes in the Antarctic”, Eos, 98, 2017.

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Impact on Elephant seal foraging from sea ice changes revealed to be sex specific

7 March 2017:

1 srep43236 f1Male and female elephant seals have been shown to display different responses in reaction to changes in sea ice cover in a recent study published in Scientific Reports by Sara Labrousse and colleagues. The effects were evident both in response to sea ice concentration and the linkages to changes in near-surface winds. The team used an 11-year time-series to examine the impact of inter-annual variability in sea ice on the foraging behaviour of the seals. The results will provide important context for predictions of how climate change and variability impact ecosystem structure and function in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean.

Sara Labrousse, Jean-Baptiste Sallée, Alexander D. Fraser, Rob A. Massom, Phillip Reid, William Hobbs, Christophe Guinet, Robert Harcourt, Clive McMahon, Matthieu Authier, Frédéric Bailleul, Mark A. Hindell & Jean-Benoit Charrassin, “Variability in sea ice cover and climate elicit sex specific responses in an Antarctic predator”, Scientific Reports, 7, Article number: 43236 (2017). doi:10.1038/srep43236

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Southern Ocean observations demonstrate continued changes in salinity, temperature and density with significant global consequences

1 Female scientists 1 760x360A recent publication by Viviane V. Menezes and colleagues (Science Advances, Jan 25 2017) has shown that Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) has continued to become fresher, warmer and less dense. The results are based on repeat observations (1994, 2007, 2016) from the same hydrographic line in the Southern Ocean. They show a particularly striking acceleration in AABW freshening between 2007 and 2016. The authors suggest one factor in the freshening may be linked to the Mertz Glacier Tongue calving event in 2010. Because AABW is a key component of the global overturning circulation, changes from continued warming and freshening have important consequences beyond the Southern Indian Ocean.

Viviane V. Menezes, Alison M. Macdonald and Courtney Schatzman, “Accelerated freshening of Antarctic Bottom Water over the last decade in the Southern Indian Ocean”, Science Advances 25 Jan 2017: Vol. 3, no. 1, e1601426 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601426

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Antarctic Ice shelf instability due to meltwater linked to wind-albedo interaction

1 AVdP ice sheet breakup 760x36014 February 2017:

Writing in Nature Climate Change, Jan Lenaerts and colleagues report on accumulations of meltwater on an East Antarctic Ice Shelf and attribute the discovery to winds flowing from the Antarctic Interior to the coast. These katabatic winds, a density-driven flow of air from the high altitude Antarctic interior to the coast, warm as they descend. The katabatic flow also scours the surface snow, exposing glacier ice. As glacier ice is darker than snow, it acts to absorb rather than reflect solar radiation, producing lower surface albedo and causing further melting. These processes identify greater vulnerability of the ice shelves than previously thought.

J. T. M. Lenaerts, S. Lhermitte, R. Drews, S. R. M. Ligtenberg, S. Berger, V. Helm, C. J. P. P. Smeets, M. R. van den Broeke, W. J. van de Berg, E. van Meijgaard, M. Eijkelboom, O. Eisen & F. Pattyn, “Meltwater produced by wind–albedo interaction stored in an East Antarctic ice shelf”, Nature Climate Change 7, 58–62 (2017) doi:10.1038/nclimate3180

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Observations of Antarctic Ice-shelf Meltwater outflow point the way to improvements in climate modelling

1 nature 20825 f114 February 2017:

A team led by Alberto C. Naviero Garabato have identified an important mechanism responsible for lateral export of meltwater at depth from an ice shelf. Using observations of the turbulent properties of the meltwater outflows from beneath a rapidly melting Antarctic ice shelf, the findings demonstrate that the mechanism is a dynamically robust feature of Antarctic melting. Current climate models use a simplified approximation resulting in ice shelf meltwater being delivered near the surface. A key uncertainty in assessing and predicting the impacts of Antarctic Ice Sheet melting concerns the vertical distribution of the exported meltwater. The authors propose the mechanism should be incorporated into the models as instability and accelerated melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet are among the foremost elements of contemporary global climate change.

Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, Alexander Forryan, Pierre Dutrieux, Liam Brannigan, Louise C. Biddle, Karen J. Heywood, Adrian Jenkins, Yvonne L. Firing & Satoshi Kimura, “Vigorous lateral export of the meltwater outflow from beneath an Antarctic ice shelf”, Nature 542, 219–222 (09 February 2017). doi:10.1038/nature20825

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AntEco Update: Surface to deep water biology of the Sabrina Seafloor, East Antarctica

9 February 2017:

1 Coscinodiscus Armbrecht lowresResearchers aboard the Australian research vessel Investigator, operated by the Marine National Facility, departed Hobart for the Sabrina Coast, East Antarctica on 14 January to explore the continental slope of this little known region. The voyage is a multidisciplinary programme comprised of geologists, geochemists, geophysicists and biologists with 22 scientists aboard from universities and research institutes in Australia, Italy, USA and Spain.

1 Sabrina seafloor NSF lowresMicrobiologists on board, Linda Armbrecht and Amaranta Focardi from Macquarie University, Sydney, are investigating phytoplankton, bacteria and virus populations from surface water samples and plankton tows, they are culturing organisms to conduct single-cell genomics on each species, and analysing ancient DNA from phytoplankton in sediment cores as a new way of determining which species thrived or didn’t thrive during past climate shifts. Alix Post, from Geoscience Australia, is using a deep-tow camera to characterise the seafloor environments and community composition at depths <2000 m. Multibeam bathymetry is being used to target communities in a range of seafloor environments, particularly within and adjacent to slope canyons, to understand how these changes in morphology may influence benthic community composition. Understanding the surface and seafloor communities, and their resilience to past changes, will help us to better manage and protect these organisms into the future.

For further information and to follow the survey go to the Sabrina Seafloor Survey website.

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Ice core and climate reanalysis analogs to predict Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere climate changes

1 ice core bubbles eric wolff- contributed by Thomas Bracegirdle, AntClim21 Chief Officer

A new paper has just been published by Mayewski et al. which contributes to one of the primary goals of the SCAR initiated AntClim21 (Antarctic Climate in the 21st Century) Scientific Research Programme to apply understanding of past and present climate as analogs for future Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere climate. The emphasis, in this paper, is on changes in atmospheric circulation because the atmosphere rapidly transports heat, moisture, momentum, and pollutants, throughout the middle to high latitudes. The resulting climate analog examples include: a continuation of the current trend in Antarctic and Southern Ocean climate characterized by some regions of warming and some cooling at the surface of the Southern Ocean, Antarctic ozone healing, a generally warming climate, increases in meridional versus zonal winds, and natural variability. The SCAR Physical Sciences Group are thanked for their generous support in publishing this paper.

Full reference: P.A. Mayewski, A.M. Carleton, S.D. Birkel, D. Dixon, A.V. Kurbatov, E. Korotkikh, J. McConnell, M. Curran, J. Cole-Dai, S. Jiang, C. Plummer, T. Vance, K.A. Maasch, S.B. Sneed, M. Handley, Ice core and climate reanalysis analogs to predict Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere climate changes, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 155, 1 January 2017, Pages 50-66, ISSN 0277-3791,

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SCAR AnT-ERA science onboard the RRS James Clark Ross

18 January 2017:  - contributed by Jose Xavier

1 JR16003 cruise teamThe Antarctic research cruise JR 16003 is the Western Core Box cruise of the 2016-17 voyage of the RRS James Clark Ross to the Antarctic, around South Georgia, with extra stations at the Antarctic Polar Front region.

Since 1981, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have undertaken cruises to determine Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) biomass as part of the ongoing assessment of the status of the marine ecosystem in the region of South Georgia. It comprises an acoustic grid survey of 8 transects each of 80 km in length, together with associated net and oceanographic sampling and the calibration of acoustic instrumentation. In addition to the acoustic survey, which covers a wide area but has limited temporal coverage, there are three moorings (one on the shelf in the Western Core Box, and two in deep water to the southwest and northwest of South Georgia) to provide a temporal, year-round set of observations. The mooring instruments record parameters such as temperature, salinity and current velocities, as well as sediment traps that enable us to monitor the annual flux of carbon to deep waters. These moorings are recovered during the cruise, refurbished and data downloaded, and then redeployed later in the cruise. The shallow Western Core Box mooring has been in position more or less continuously since 2003.

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Improving our GPS Navigation in Antarctica: First Observations of GNSS Ionospheric Scintillations From DemoGRAPE Project

17 January 2017:

1 Demo GRAPEAlfonsi, L., et al. (2016), First Observations of GNSS Ionospheric Scintillations From DemoGRAPE Project, Space Weather, 14, doi:10.1002/2016SW0014882016SW001488.


The Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia leads an international project funded by the Italian National Program for Antarctic Research, called Demonstrator of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Research and Application for Polar Environment (DemoGRAPE), in partnership with Politecnico di Torino, Istituto Superiore Mario Boella, and with South African National Space Agency and the Brazilian National Institute of Space Physics, as key collaborators. DemoGRAPE is a new prototype of support for the satellite navigation in Antarctica. Besides the scientific interest, the accuracy of satellite navigation in Antarctica is of paramount importance since there is always the danger that people and vehicles can fall into a crevasse during a snowstorm, when visibility is limited and travel is restricted to following specified routes using satellite navigation systems.

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New Handbook on Politics in Antarctica could transform our thinking

17 January 2017:

1 Antarctic Politics coverThe Antarctic and Southern Ocean are hotspots for contemporary endeavours to oversee 'the last frontier' of the Earth. The Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica offers a wide-ranging and comprehensive overview of the governance, geopolitics, international law, cultural studies and history of the region. Four thematic sections take readers from the earliest human encounters to contemporary resource exploitation and climate change. Written by leading experts, the Handbook brings together the very best interdisciplinary social science and humanities scholarship on the Antarctic and Southern Ocean.

Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica - edited by Klaus Dodds, Alan D. Hemmings and Peder Roberts, with contributions from many of the SCAR History and Social Science group members.

For more information and to purchase a copy, please visit the publisher's website.  SCAR readers are entitled to a 35% discount - just go to the Handbook page, add the book to your basket, click on the basket and use code SCAR35 in the discount box.

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Links between atmosphere, ocean, and cryosphere on the Antarctic Peninsula

17 January 2017:

1 Microseism obsRick Aster and colleagues at Colorado State University have just published results from an examination of 20 years of microseism observations from the Antarctic Peninsula that help to improve our understanding of factors that potentially drive the collapse of ice shelves.

Learn more about their study from the Press Release or download the paper from the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Anthony, R. E., R. C. Aster, and D. McGrath (2016), Links between atmosphere, ocean, and cryosphere from two decades of microseism observations on the Antarctic Peninsula, J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surface, 122,  doi:10.1002/2016JF004098.


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Journal Special Issue dedicated to the work of Antarctic Thresholds - Ecosystem Resilience and Adaptation

8 December 2016:

1 SI Biodiversity Fig1A Special Issue of the journal Biodiversity has recently been published as a main product of SCAR's AnT-ERA (Antarctic Thresholds - Ecosystem Resilience and Adaptation) Scientific Research Programme. It covers aspects of variation and function at all levels of biological organisation, from genomic expression, through biochemistry, physiology, life history, ecology, biogeography, up to macroecology, e.g. refering to the diversity of giant deep-sea amphipods, peat bog pools in Tierra del Fuego, ocean acidification, and chemical diversity of natural products.

Present patterns of biodiversity and distribution, in Polar Regions and elsewhere, are a consequence of processes occurring on physiological, ecological and evolutionary timescales, which can be modified by environmental changes. The Antarctic is a fundamental part of the Earth System, and the study of its biota is intimately linked to its climate and tectonic history, through the interconnection between living and abiotic environments. Due to the speed of current changes, and the broad relevance of Antarctica in the study of biodiversity, in 2004 SCAR launched the flagship programme ‘Evolution and Biodiversity in the Antarctic – The Response of Life to Change’ (EBA;, aimed at understanding life processes, evolution and adaptations in Antarctic marine and terrestrial environments. 

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Hoofprints in Antarctica

7 December 2016:

1 Byrds cowsWhen Admiral Byrd took three cows south in 1933, the herd - and his expedition - made dairy history. Their tale of sponsorship, headlines, and plenty of milk highlights the extent to which polar expeditions have been reliant on sponsorship, and reveals one of the more unusual ways Antarctica has been put to use for commercial purposes.

A research paper on Byrd's cows by Hanne Nielsen, has just been published in The Polar Journal:

Nielsen, H. (2016) ‘Hoofprints in Antarctica: Byrd, Media, and the golden Guernseys’, The Polar Journal, pp. 1–16. doi:10.1080/2154896X.2016.1253825.

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Community Review of Southern Ocean Satellite Requirements Published

1 Satellite phytoplankton7 December 2016:

A community review paper, which highlights the current priority satellite data requirements of the Southern Ocean research and logistics community, has just been published. The report is sponsored by SOOS (the Southern Ocean Observing System), CliC (The Climate and Cryosphere project) and SCAR, and is published as an open-access article in the journal Antarctic Science.

Work on this review began back in 2014 as a joint initiative of SOOS, CliC and the World Meteorological Organization Polar Space Task Group (WMO PSTG). The aim was to identify the satellite data requirements for the Southern Ocean and compile this information into a community report of Southern Ocean satellite data requirements. Southern Ocean data users were invited to take part in a survey to voice their needs and provide feedback on data streams, access and validation issues and to point out where gaps in data existed. The survey was followed by extensive community input and review.  The result was this publication.

Access the full journal article on the Antarctic Science website.

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Delivering 21st century Antarctic and Southern Ocean science

21 November 2016:

1 ARC Book coverIn recognition of the growing importance of Antarctic science and research in global debates, the international community came together in an unprecedented effort to define the highest-priority scientific questions that can be uniquely addressed by studying the region. This process began with the first SCAR Antarctic and Southern Ocean Science Horizon Scan, which identified the most important scientific questions that will or should be addressed by research in and from the southern Polar Regions over the next two decades. This was followed by the Antarctic Roadmap Challenges (ARC) project, led by COMNAP (the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs) and supported by SCAR, which determined the steps necessary to enable the community to conduct research that will answer the critical questions. 

Full results of the ARC project were published in the Antarctic Roadmap Challenges book.  As a next step, these results and conclusions have now been summarised in a peer-reviewed article, recently published in the online journal Antarctic Science.  The article, "Delivering 21st century Antarctic and Southern Ocean science", is open access, enabling the widest possible dissemination.

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Advancing Polar Prediction Capabilities on Daily to Seasonal Time Scales

TJung2016paper31 October 2016:

The polar regions have been attracting more and more attention in recent years, fueled by the perceptible impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Polar climate change provides new opportunities, such as shorter shipping routes between Europe and East Asia, but also new risks such as the potential for industrial accidents or emergencies in ice-covered seas. Here, it is argued that environmental prediction systems for the polar regions are less developed than elsewhere. There are many reasons for this situation, including the polar regions being (historically) lower priority, with fewer in situ observations, and with numerous local physical processes that are less well represented by models. By contrasting the relative importance of different physical processes in polar and lower latitudes, the need for a dedicated polar prediction effort is illustrated. Research priorities are identified that will help to advance environmental polar prediction capabilities. Examples include an improvement of the polar observing system; the use of coupled atmosphere–sea ice–ocean models, even for short-term prediction; and insight into polar–lower-latitude linkages and their role for forecasting. Given the enormity of some of the challenges ahead, in a harsh and remote environment such as the polar regions, it is argued that rapid progress will only be possible with a coordinated international effort. More specifically, it is proposed to hold a Year of Polar Prediction (YOPP) from mid-2017 to mid-2019 in which the international research and operational forecasting communites will work together with stakeholders in a period of intensive observing, modeling, prediction, verification, user engagement, and educational activities.

Jung, T., N. Gordon, P. Bauer, D. Bromwich, M. Chevallier, J Day, and co-authors. 2016. Advancing polar predic- tion capabilities on daily to seasonal time scales. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 97, 1631–1647, doi:10.1175 /BAMS-D-14-00246.1.

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SO-AntEco (South Orkneys – State of the Antarctic Ecosystem) Cruise Report

31 October 2016: Contributed by: Huw Griffiths* and colleagues

2 SO Ant2016 F1


The South Orkney Islands is a small archipelago located in the Southern Ocean, 375 miles north-east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The seafloor around the South Orkney Islands has been shown to be an area with exceptionally high biodiversity. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) closed all finfish fisheries around the South Orkney Islands in 1989, and in 2009 they established the South Orkney Islands Southern Shelf Marine Protected Area (SOISS MPA), the first MPA located entirely within the High Seas anywhere on the planet.

SO-AntEco (JR15005) was a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) led expedition undertaken in conjunction with an international team of scientists from the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) AntEco research programme. The team included 22 participants from 9 different countries and 16 institutes. The expedition took place on board the RRS James Clark Ross in February-March 2016.

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Science Feature: A recent pause in Antarctic Peninsula warming

1 AntarcticPeninsula BAS25 July 2016:

“The rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula, which occurred from the early-1950s to the late 1990s, has paused. Stabilisation of the ozone hole along with natural climate variability were significant in bringing about the change.

Together these influences have now caused the northern part of the peninsula to enter a temporary cooling phase. Temperatures remain higher than measured during the middle of the 20th Century and glacial retreat is still taking place. However, scientists predict that if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise at the current rate, temperatures will increase across the Antarctic Peninsula by several degrees Centigrade by the end of this century.”
- according to a Press Release from the British Antarctic Survey


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Developing priority variables for observing dynamics and change in Southern Ocean ecosystems

1 potential design of field sampling for ecosystems in the Southern Ocean Observing System22 June 2016:

Congratulations to the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) Team on the publication of ecosystem Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) for the Southern Ocean! This is a major step toward the design and implementation of SOOS.

Reliable statements about variability and change in marine ecosystems and their underlying causes are needed to report on their status and to guide management. Here we use the Framework on Ocean Observing (FOO) to begin developing ecosystem Essential Ocean Variables (eEOVs) for the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS). An eEOV is a defined biological or ecological quantity, which is derived from field observations, and which contributes significantly to assessments of Southern Ocean ecosystems. Here, assessments are concerned with estimating status and trends in ecosystem properties, attribution of trends to causes, and predicting future trajectories. eEOVs should be feasible to collect at appropriate spatial and temporal scales and are useful to the extent that they contribute to direct estimation of trends and/or attribution, and/or development of ecological (statistical or simulation) models to support assessments. In this paper we outline the rationale, including establishing a set of criteria, for selecting eEOVs for the SOOS and develop a list of candidate eEOVs for further evaluation. Other than habitat variables, nine types of eEOVs for Southern Ocean taxa are identified within three classes: state (magnitude, genetic/species, size spectrum), predator–prey (diet, foraging range), and autecology (phenology, reproductive rate, individual growth rate, detritus). Most candidates for the suite of Southern Ocean taxa relate to state or diet. Candidate autecological eEOVs have not been developed other than for marine mammals and birds. We consider some of the spatial and temporal issues that will influence the adoption and use of eEOVs in an observing system in the Southern Ocean, noting that existing operations and platforms potentially provide coverage of the four main sectors of the region — the East and West Pacific, Atlantic and Indian. Lastly, we discuss the importance of simulation modelling in helping with the design of the observing system in the long term.

This publication is open access, download it here:


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Future Challenges in Southern Ocean Ecology Research

1 Xavier2016 fig130 June 2016: Contributed by J. Xavier, A. Brandt and Y. Ropert-Coudert

We are pleased to announce the publication of "Future challenges in Southern Ocean ecology research", by Jose Carlos Xavier, Angelika Brandt, Yan Ropert-Coudert, Renuka Badhe, Julian Gutt, Charlotte Havermans, Christopher Jones, Erli S Costa, Karin Lochte, Irene R Schloss, Mahlon C. Kennicutt II, William J. Sutherland, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, section Marine Ecosystem Ecology. This article is follow-on work from the 1st SCAR Antarctic and Southern Ocean Horizon Scan completed in 2014.

To view the online open-access publication please click here:

The Southern Ocean is experiencing relentless change. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean community, represented by 75 scientists and policy-makers from 22 countries, recently met to formulate a collective vision on the priorities for Antarctic research for the next two decades and beyond. Here, we assess high-interest research areas related specifically to Southern Ocean life and ecology that, although not all retained as the 80 top priorities among the addressed scientific domains, are of considerable relevance to the biology and ecology of the Southern Ocean. As certain regions of the Southern Ocean ecosystems have witnessed abiotic and biotic changes in the last decades (e.g., warming, climate variability, changes in sea ice, and abundance of marine organisms), such an exercise was urgently needed. We concluded that basic biological information on the taxonomy of numerous organisms is still lacking in areas, such as the deep-ocean floor or the under-ice environments. Furthermore, there is a need for knowledge about the response and resilience of Antarctic marine ecosystems to change. The continuation of a long-term commitment and the development and use of innovative technology to adequately monitor the Southern Ocean ecosystems is required. Highlighting the most important Southern Ocean research topics allow the identification of the challenges and future requirements in technological development, and both research and funding strategies for the various stakeholders.

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Water bears revived after more than 30 years in the freezer!

16 February 2016:

Tsujimoto tardigrade 2016

Lead researcher on the study, Dr Megumu Tsujimoto, is a SCAR Fellow from 2012 (see the Fellows page for details).

Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Polar Research have successfully revived microscopic tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets) that had been kept frozen for more than 30 years. Tardigrades are tiny water-dwelling, eight-legged, segmented creatures which grow to about 1mm in length and are capable of surviving in some of the world's most extreme environments. 

The study, published in the the journal Cryobiology, describes how a moss sample collected in Antarctica in November 1983, stored at −20°C, was thawed in May 2014. Two individuals and a separate egg retrieved from the thawed sample were revived, thereby providing the longest record of survival for tardigrades as animals or eggs (the previous longest records of revival after the long-term storage for tardigrades were nine years for eggs in dried storage at room temperature and eight years for animals in dried storage under a frozen condition). Subsequently, one of the revived tardigrades and the hatchling repeatedly reproduced after recovering from their long-term cryptobiosis.

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