News FocusClimate Change

Winds of Change

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Science  16 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6109, pp. 879-881
DOI: 10.1126/science.338.6109.879

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Antarctica does not respond to global warming uniformly like a giant ice cube. Changing wind patterns are an unsung force shaping Antarctica's future. Retreating sea ice and stronger winds have caused seawater to mix more deeply, a process that churns sunlight-dependent phytoplankton into the ocean's depths. As a result, phytoplankton biomass has declined by 12% over the past 30 years. Higher on the food chain, that means fewer krill and fish larvae. These creatures are also getting hammered by the loss of sea ice, which hides them from predators. The complex interplay between air, sea, and ice has emerged as a central theme underlying climate change in Antarctica. Shifting wind patterns and corresponding ocean changes can explain climate responses across the continent.

  • * Jane Qiu is a writer in Beijing. Her trip to the Palmer Station was supported by the Marine Biological Laboratory's Logan Science Journalism Fellowship.