Nav: Home

New study reveals how foreign kelp surfed to Antarctica

July 16, 2018

A research team led by The Australian National University (ANU) has found the first proof that Antarctica is not isolated from the rest of the Earth, with the discovery that foreign kelp had drifted 20,000 kilometres before surfing to the continent's icy shores.

Scientists had previously thought that Antarctic plants and animals were distinct from others around the world because they were isolated, but this new research indicates that these differences are almost entirely due to environmental extremes rather than isolation.

The kelp's journey is the longest known biological rafting event ever recorded and has helped the team re-evaluate the science of ocean drift that is used to track plastics, aeroplane crash debris and other floating material across our seas.

Lead researcher Dr Crid Fraser from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society said DNA analysis found one kelp specimen drifted all the way from the Kerguelen Islands and another from South Georgia.

She said the foreign kelp essentially surfed to Antarctica, with the help of wind-driven surface waves during storms.

"This is an unequivocal demonstration that marine species from the north can reach Antarctica," Dr Fraser said.

"To get there, the kelp had to pass through barriers created by polar winds and currents that were, until now, thought to be impenetrable."

Modelling shows how the kelp could have reached Antarctica, which overturns scientific understanding of drift dispersal in the Southern Ocean, Dr Fraser said.

"Our findings also indicate that plants and animals living on Antarctica could be more vulnerable to climate change than we had suspected."

Co-researcher Dr Adele Morrison from ANU and the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes led the oceanographic analyses.

"Strong westerly winds and surface currents are expected to drive floating objects north and away from Antarctica, but when the disruptive influence of Antarctic storms is factored in, that all changes," said Dr Morrison from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

Using cutting-edge modelling techniques, the team began to see how large waves arising during storms could help kelp rafts to reach Antarctica.

"Once we incorporated wave-driven surface motion, which is especially pronounced during storms, suddenly some of these biological rafts were able to fetch up on the Antarctic coastline," Dr Morrison said.

If plants and animals get to Antarctica fairly frequently by floating across the ocean, they will be able to establish themselves as soon as the local environment becomes hospitable enough."

Dr Erasmo Macaya, from Universidad de Concepción and Centro IDEAL in Chile, is the member of the team who found the foreign kelp at the Antarctic beach.

"The kelp does not grow in Antarctica but we know it can float, and can act as a raft, carrying many other intertidal plants and animals with it across oceans," he said.

The research is published in Nature Climate Change.
-end-
IMAGES AND VIDEO FOR MEDIA:

The following Dropbox link provides a selection of photos and videos of the kelp, the kelp pieces found in Antarctica, Dr Crid Fraser in Antarctica and icebergs, as well as a movie of some of the modelling done for this study: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/tlwlqomvytesbz0/AAAZSaaJF7SbSL8imejhpjSna?dl=0

There is a document in the Dropbox folder that provides descriptions of photos and videos, along with the appropriate credit information.

FOR INTERVIEW:

Dr Ceridwen Fraser
Fenner School of Environment and Society
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 6125 5018
M: +61 432 019 009
E: ceridwen.fraser@anu.edu.au
Note: Dr Fraser will be away from the office from this Friday until Monday next week, but will still be contactable on her mobile and email during this time.

Dr Adele Morrison
Research School of Earth Sciences and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 6125 9957
M: +61 452 115 034
E: adele.morrison@anu.edu.au
Note: Dr Morrison will be away from the office on Monday next week, but will still be contactable on her mobile on the day.

Dr Andy Hogg
Research School of Earth Sciences and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes
ANU College of Science
T: +61 2 6125 9962
E: andy.hogg@anu.edu.au
Note: Dr Hogg will be on leave for the entire week beginning Monday 16 July 2018.

Dr Erasmo Macaya
Universidad de Concepción and Centro IDEAL in Chile
T: +56 412 661 194
E: erasmomacaya@udec.cl

For media assistance, contact Will Wright on +61 2 6100 3486, the ANU media hotline on +612 6125 7979 or email the ANU Media Team at media@anu.edu.au

Australian National University

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.