The Ross Sea, a major, biologically productive Antarctic ecosystem, "clearly will be extensively modified by future climate change" in the coming decades as rising temperatures and changing wind patterns create longer periods of ice-free open water, affecting the life cycles of both predators and prey, according to a paper published by researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
To make their predictions, the researchers used information drawn from the Regional Ocean Modeling System, a computer model of sea-ice, ocean, atmosphere and ice-shelf interactions.
While conceding that "predicting future changes in ecosystems is challenging," the researchers note in a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, the changes predicted by the computer model have the potential to create "significant but unpredictable impacts on the ocean's most pristine ecosystem."
The wind and temperature changes, the authors note, will affect the ecological balance at the base of the Antarctic food web--including changes in distributions of algae, shrimp-like krill and Antarctic silverfish--which, in turn, may be expected to cause disruptions in the upper portions of the food web, including penguins, seals and whales, which depend on those species for food.
A team of four researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) at the College of William and Mary and the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., jointly authored the paper.
Walker O. Smith, Jr., a professor at VIMS and the lead author of the study, said: "The model suggests that the substantial changes in the physical setting of the Ross Sea will induce severe changes in the present food web, changes that are driven by global climate change. Without a doubt the Ross Sea 100 years from now will be a completely different system than we know today."
The research was funded by the Polar
|Contact: Peter West|
National Science Foundation