Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Last chance to see.... penguins?

Depressing news from the Antarctic... ocean temperatures are rising much faster than expected, with potentially devastating effects on the marine wildlife.

Animals that live on the seabed around the Antarctic Peninsula, where summertime water temperatures currently peak at about 0.5C, are sensitive to small shifts in temperature. In water just two degrees warmer, molluscs become unable to bury themselves in seabed sediment, limpets cannot turn over and scallops lose the ability to swim. These changes would make them more susceptible to predators, disrupting the food chain and quickly endangering larger animals and birds. "If the warming goes on at the same rate for 50 years or 100 years then lots of populations of animals I work on, and maybe entire species, would be at risk," Professor Peck said.

This doesn't really surprise me.... the arctic and antarctic regions of this planet have been seeing some of the strongest effects of global warming, with average air temperatures rising and glaciers showing signficant melt. It only makes sense that the warming would affect the ocean water itself. Unfortunately, these effects are not going to limit themselves to just the polar extremes.... its tempting for some to think that we are just going to lose a few obscure animals in a place that no one ever visits, so who is going to care? However, the Antarctic and Arctic oceans are important food resources for birds and mammals (particularly whales) that migrate there to feed before returning to more temperate water. Extinctions at the extremes of the globe will have effects that reach far into our own familiar territory.

The worst part is that there isn't much we can do about it now... we've passed a point of no return in global warming. Not much to do now but enjoy the worlds largest experiment in organismal adaptability.