Have you ever thought of visiting Antarctica? We guess everyone, once in their lifetime, had thought of an expedition to Antarctica. 

Located in the southernmost part of the globe, Antarctica is isolated from human civilization, and very few people have experienced the exotic beauty of the place.

As isolated as it is, even Antarctica suffers harshly under global warming and may cease if climate change proliferates.

Let’s look at how climate change is affecting Antarctica.

Table of Contents

1. Increasing temperature 

Increasing temperature
Increasing temperature | Image Credit – The Conversation

An increase in temperature is what we all envision when we talk about climate change. 

The very nascent main issue caused by climate change bifurcates into various ecosystem problems and many more.

The Antarctic peninsula’s temperature is increasing rapidly. It warmed almost 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last fifty years, significantly higher than the global average of 1.6 degrees.

Argentina’s esperanza research station recorded a high temperature of 64.9 °F, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica; it made a headline in many news channels worldwide. With the air getting hotter in Antarctica, even the oceans are getting hotter.

2. Melting of snow 

Glaciers are melting | Image Credit – Scientific American

Anyone can tell that the rising temperature melts the snow. It is what is happening in Antarctica currently. 

The rate of ice loss from the continent has tripled from 2012 compared to ice losses from the previous two decades. 

The world’s giant iceberg, “A68,” weighing 1.1 trillion tons, broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017. 

Similar calving effects are recorded frequently. Just recently, an iceberg twice the size of DC broke off the rapidly retreating pine island glacier. 

The fracturing of the ice shelf is a sign that fracturing the ice initially destabilizes the whole berg. 

During their experiments, researchers have found a sizable underwater cavity that is two-thirds the size of manhattan. 

Researchers have found that surface meltwater is now spread over the Antarctic ice sheet, causing an accelerated melting of outlet glaciers. New large lakes are forming under eastern Antarctica. 

Scientists found out that a part of the Ross ice shelf, which is very important for its overstability, is melting ten times faster than the shelf average. 

The lakes formed on the surface of east Antarctica are fueling up the absorption of solar radiation, reducing the surface reflectivity of ice, and speeding up the melting process. 

3. Shrinking penguin population 

Penguin in Antarctica jumping out of the water
Penguin population is shrinking because of excessive heat | Image Credit – Wikipedia Commons

Penguins are a group of flightless and aquatic birds that live almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere. 

Only one species of penguin is found in the northern hemisphere. The genesis of the word penguin is still divisive. 

The largest and tallest species out of all the penguin species is the emperor penguin. 

On average, adults are measured at 1.1m tall, weighing 35 kg. The smallest out of all the penguin species is the little blue penguin standing 33 cm tall and weighing 1 kg.

A recent expedition in Antarctica by the world’s leading scientist revealed that penguin numbers were falling viciously in number, with one colony decreasing by seventy-seven percent in the last fifty years. 

The data came as a real shock to the world’s leading environmental conservation organizations, such as the international union for conservation of Nations, as the species was in the box of the minor concern species in the world.

Scientists implied that the sudden ecosystem change in the oceans may have led to this situation in the last fifty years. 

According to scientist and author Noah Strycker, the present declination of penguins shows that the marine ecology is broken or has drastically changed from the 1970s.  

The penguin relies on sea ice to get their primary source of food i.e fish. However, with climate change effects, the ice is melting, and the species must suffer from the scarcity of their primary food. If climate change affects them, it affects the ecosystem of the area.

Although the breeding rates of the species are not declining, there is more threat for the babies after they are born. No food is one of the main issues after all.

Another reason for declining species is that the penguin cannot acclimatize to the abrupt changes occurring in Antarctica. 

4. Impact on marine life 

Understanding effects of climate change on marine life | Video Credit – Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies

Krill, one of the primary food sources for larger animals, is the root of the food chain in marine life. 

Its name comes from the Norwegian word “krill,” which means small fry of fish. The species is often attributed to species of fish.

The species creates the largest biomass of any other species in the Antarctic ocean. 

Making up an estimated biomass of around 379,000,000 tonnes, over half of the biomass is devoured by other larger marine species such as whales, seals, penguins, and so on.

They are prey for the predators near the surface at night while food is in deep waters during the day. 

In the last few years, the krill population has been decreasing. As the population of krill decreases, the other marine animals are forced to look for other food sources. 

In the last fifty years, the krill population has declined by about 70 to 80 percent due to climate change. 

The increasing temperature in oceans is rendering less survivability of krills. Thus, minimal food sources for other creatures in oceans. 

It is a threat that even scientists worldwide are worried about. Once the food chain is disturbed, the whole ecosystem in oceans is doomed. 

5. Snow is turning red 

Snow in Antarctica mysteriously turns blood red | Image Credit – Hindustan Times

Usually, when we hear Antarctica, we envision coll shades of blue and white. You will be appalled to know that we can find a hint of red in the snow and ice of Antarctica due to climate change. 

There is no rocket science process behind the phenomenon. The typical algae that abode in the snow is the reason behind the reddish pigment in the snow. 

The algae thrive in warm temperatures, and as the temperature rises, the algae produce a reddish pigment to protect from solar radiation as a coping mechanism to the heat.

The phenomenon was noticed by Aristotle thousands of years ago. He named the phenomenon watermelon snow, which is quite ironic because the same algae are behind the redness in the watermelon and carrots.  

With climate change being more brutal to the environment, the snow keeps turning red. 

The growth of such algae is directly proportional to the temperature rise. The more growth of such algae, there is more snow turns into a darker shade. 

The whole phenomenon is a loop from which climate change continues. It reduces the surface reflectivity and causes more solar radiation absorption. 

Recent studies show that 40 red snow sites across the arctic confirmed higher melt rates when the algae were present. 

6. Greener lands 

Lands are getting greener in Antarctica | Image Credit – Cool Antarctica

A lot of people think that Antarctica is just snow and penguins. They aren’t wrong if we look back at Antarctica a couple of decades ago. 

However, due to the climate changes, the geography of Antarctica has flipped somehow.

Antarctica is an abode to several algae growing on slushy snow that absorbs carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere. The two vascular plants dominate the Antarctic region. 

As the temperature increases, the nitrogen is typically locked away in the soil, decomposing more quickly.

The two species of plants, Antarctic hair grass, and Antarctic Pearlwort, thrive in nitrogen.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic used satellite images and ground information to create the first large-scale map of algae on the peninsula.

The map is created to show the world how climate change affects Antarctica. It found 1600 separate green algae blooms on the barren continent. 

It equals a carbon sink of about 479 tonnes per year – equivalent to the emission of around 8,75,000 car journeys.

The blooming algae are turning some parts of Antarctica green, conspicuous from space. 

7. Increasing sea level 

Sea levels Rise | Video Credit – NASA Space Place

Climate change is increasing sea levels. Usually, the sea level rises in two ways. First, when the glacier and snowmelt are due to increasing temperature. Secondly, the water increases its volume when it warms.

Antarctica lost ice nearly quadrupled from 51 billion tons per year between 1992 and 2001 to 199 billion tons per year from 2012 to 2016. The sea-level rise was near twice the sea level due to thermal expansion. 

In the United States alone, thirty-nine percent of the population lives in relatively high population-density coastal areas. 

Eight out of ten world’s largest cities are near the coast. The rising sea levels threaten infrastructures, industries, roads, bridges, and landfills – everything humankind has created near the coastal areas. 

As climate change prevails, the sea level will continue to rise. How much the sea level will increase will depend on the rate of glaciers and ice sheet melting. 

In short, if climate change is controlled, the catastrophe would never even occur. 

8. Thawing permafrost

Thawing permafrost | Image Credit – Climate Kids

Permafrost is a combination of soil, rocks, pebbles, and sand held together by ice. In other words, permafrost is any ground that remains completely frozen for at least two years straight.

Most of the region of the earth is covered by permafrost. The permafrost soils contain large quantities of organic carbon. 

The materials are the leftovers from dead plants that couldn’t decompose or rot away because of the cold.

As climate change is hitting hard in Antarctica, the permafrost is thawing. The ice behind the permafrost melts, leaving only the water and soil. 

Many lands in the southern hemisphere are built on the permafrost. If the permafrost melts, it can destroy villages making the place inhabitable. 

The permafrost melts with ancient bacteria and viruses in the ice and soil. The viruses could be fatal to humans. 

The process releases carbon dioxide gas and methane into the atmosphere, further escalating the greenhouse process.

9. Ocean acidification

When carbon dioxide gas enters the ocean, it dissolves into saltwater. It forms carbonic acid. 

Then, the carbonic acid breaks apart: it produces hydrogen and bicarbonate ions.

The hydrogen ions and carbonate ions react, producing more bicarbonate ions, and the concentration of ions decreases.

The concentration of hydrogen ions drives down ocean ph, making the ph more acidic. 

Humans have increased the emission of carbon dioxide profusely by burning fossil fuels and changing land-use practices.

With more and more carbon dioxide gas present in the atmosphere, the ocean becomes more acidic.

The southern ocean that encircles Antarctica absorbs forty percent of the additional carbon dioxide, making it the planet’s strongest ocean carbon sink.

The consequence of ocean acidification on the southern ocean food web is evident. Single Cell phytoplankton is at the base of the Antarctic food web.

As per the studies led by the Institute of marine and antarctic studies, researchers have found that phytoplankton is threatened. 

Ocean acidification affects how nutrients are cycled, reducing the energy available to higher organisms. 

In addition, ocean acidification calcifies the organisms that bring tumult to the marine ecosystem in Antarctica. 

10. Increase in heavy precipitation

Extreme Precipitation because of Climate change | Image Credit – Center for climate and energy solutions

When the amount of rain or snow experienced in a location exceeds normal, the phenomenon is called heavy precipitation. What has considered heavy precipitation varies from site to season.

Climate change affects the strength and frequency of precipitation. It is what is happening in the Antarctic region. The water evaporates when the temperature of the ocean increases. 

When moisture-laden air converges into a storm system, it can produce more intense precipitation. It affects a lot of situations.

The potential impacts of heavy precipitation are soil erosion, crop damage, an increase in floods, and so on. 

Heavy precipitation does not mean the total amount of precipitation at a particular location has increased- just that precipitation is occurring in more extreme events. 

Wrapping up 

Climate change is changing the whole geography of Antarctica – not in a good way. The above mentioned are just a few of the effects of climate change in Antarctica. 

If human activities are not restrained, it may lead us to some severe issues in the future. Control human interference, control climate change, and then we will save the earth.

(Last Updated on June 9, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Saurav Khadka, with his A levels in computer science from Saipal Academy, owns a keen desire to know more about the environment. He wants to preach his knowledge to others by learning through his hobbies; reading, writing, traveling, and watching movies. He believes sharing his insight regarding a sustainable environment will undoubtedly generate positive perceptions in the people.