Antarctica, the Southernmost continent, has been often neglected by the media when it comes to reporting the impacts of climate change in this ice-covered landmass. However, recent studies reveal that Antarctica has been warming up and it threatens to drive rapid sea-level rise globally as the climate changes. The West Antarctic peninsula has been among the fastest-warming parts of our planet where the air temperature has increased by 3°C. Sea ice, in some regions, has been decreasing. This will not only affect local wildlife and ecosystems, but it will also have dire consequences for the entire world.
As per the satellite data, the sea level has been rising by 3 mm per year since the early 1990s. Scientists believe that Antarctica which once was thought as a “sleeping giant” when it comes to its contribution to rising sea level, has now emerged as one of the key players driving the sea level rise. With the increasing rate of melt of the ice sheet of Antarctica, more water will be added to the sea, which may further increase the sea level globally. The Antarctic sheet ice, if melted completely, can raise worldwide sea levels by 60 meters! This will have catastrophic implications for coastal communities and infrastructure.
Marine life too has been affected by climate change in Antarctica. The loss of sea ice has resulted in the decline of many species of animals, especially of penguins. Antarctica is home to four species of penguins. Adélie penguins, which thrive on sea ice, have reported a decrease in population due to loss of sea ice. However, other species such as Chinstrap penguins have grown as they flourish in open water sites. The number of Emperor penguins, which breeds on sea ice that surrounds continental Antarctica, too has declined by fifty per cent in some regions. The loss of ice cover has resulted in a decline in Antarctic krill which feed on algae underneath sea ice. As the krill forms a vital part of the marine food web, its decline could threaten the lives of several other marine species such as whales, seals and penguins who feed on krill. With melting ice and snow, the region has been witnessing colonisation of plants.
Climatologists and environmentalists have been addressing the issues of climate change impacts in Antarctica through public advocacy and various government outreach programs. To mitigate the implications in the region, there is an immediate requirement of reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions; and locally, the deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy systems at all Antarctic stations are needed. The wildlife and ecosystems may not cope naturally with climate change, hence, the adaptation strategies become vital for them to survive. Implementation of biosecurity measures, the establishment of marine protected areas and introduction of adaptive management systems, are some strategies which can boost the resilience of the ecosystem and prepare them to tackle climate change effectively. Further, by promoting more research in the region and sharing the results of the findings with the policymakers and world leaders to take timely actions may minimise the impacts of climate change.