Science & Tech

Warming of Antarctic oceans endangers marine life

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Skeleton crushing predators move into warming waters

Global warming is endangering marine life in Antarctic waters for the
first time in millions of years, said specialists participating on a panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2008 annual meeting here in Boston today.

Sven Thatje, a professor at the University of Southampton in the
United Kingdom, said that rising temperatures are allowing
skeleton-crushing predators such as sharks and crabs to move
closer and closer to Antarctica. The marine food web is different
in polar regions, he said, because the water is normally too cold for these skeleton-crushing predators. Unusual invertebrates, such as sea lilies, sea
spiders and giant worms would be extremely vulnerable to these predators.

Thatje explained that sea-surface temperatures off the Antarctic
Peninsula have increased by one degree Celsius over the last 50 years,
making it among the Earth’s fastest-warming ocean regions. “The cold
temperature barriers are coming down. Rapid change is inevitable and
there are going to be winners and losers in the ecosystem,” he said.

Cheryl Wilga, Associate Professor of Evolutionary and Functional Morphology at the University of Rhode Island, noted that marine creatures in the Antarctic would have to have at least 10 times more muscle density then they have to “fight off” skeleton-crushing predators.

Richard B. Aronson, a senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island
Sea Lab in Alabama, called for immediate action. “These strange
creatures have thrived in splendid isolation for millions of years,”
he said. “We have to act now to save the marine diversity of the

– Yvette Wohn –