What changes when you warm the Antarctic Ocean just 1 degree? Lots

August 31, 2017

After warming a natural seabed in the Antarctic Ocean by just 1° or 2° Celsius, researchers observed massive impacts on a marine assemblage, as growth rates nearly doubled. The findings of what the researchers call the "most realistic ocean warming experiment to date" reported in Current Biology on August 31 show that the effects of future warming may far exceed expectations.

"I was quite surprised," says Gail Ashton of the British Antarctic Survey and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. "I wasn't expecting a significant observable difference in communities warmed by just 1°C in the Antarctic. I have spent most of my career working in temperate climates where communities experience much greater temperature fluctuations and wasn't expecting such a response to just 1°C of change."

Predicting how organisms and whole communities will respond to climate change in the future remains a major challenge. So, Ashton and her colleagues decided to actually warm an area of seabed around the Rothera Research Station and watch what happened. They deployed heated settlement panels to warm a thin layer of water by 1°C or 2°C above the ambient temperature. Those increases in global temperature are expected within the next 50 and 100 years, respectively.

The experiment showed that with a 1°C increase in temperature, a single pioneer species of bryozoan (Fenestrulina rugula) took off. That one species ultimately dominated the community, driving a reduction in overall species diversity and evenness within two months. Individuals of a marine worm, Romanchella perrieri, also grew to an average size 70 percent larger than those under ambient conditions, the researchers report.

The responses of organisms to a 2°C rise in temperature were much more variable. Growth-rate responses to warming differed among species, ages, and seasons. Species generally grew faster with warming through the Antarctic summer. However, different responses among species were observed in March, when both food availability for suspension feeders and ambient temperature declined, the researchers report.

The researchers say the findings suggest that climate change could have even greater effects on polar marine ecosystems than had been anticipated. As the planet warms, there will be winners (like the bryozoan Fenestrulina rugula) and losers.

The researchers say they now plan to expand the use of this technology to investigate the response to warming in other locations and communities, including the Arctic.
-end-
This work was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Current Biology, Ashton et al.: "Warming by 1°C Drives Species and Assemblage Level Responses in Antarctica's Marine Shallows" http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)30952-1

Current Biology (@CurrentBiology), published by Cell Press, is a bimonthly journal that features papers across all areas of biology. Current Biology strives to foster communication across fields of biology, both by publishing important findings of general interest and through highly accessible front matter for non-specialists. Visit: http://www.cell.com/current-biology. To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

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.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.