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Antarctica Experiences First Known Heat Wave
By Richard Connor
Scientists have recorded Antarctica's first documented heat wave, warning that animal and plant life on the isolated continent could be drastically affected by climate change.
Australian Antarctic Program researchers recorded the heat wave event at Casey research station in East Antarctica during the 2019-2020 southern hemisphere summer.
Findings by the team were published in the Global Change Biology journal on Tuesday, with authors warning that the changes could affect global weather patterns.
Between January 23 and 26, a research team at Casey — directly south of Perth in western Australia — recorded the highest maximum and minimum temperatures ever seen at the base.
During the period, minimum temperatures were higher than zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) while the maximums peaked above 7.5 degrees.
On January 24, the Casey team recorded a record high temperature of 9.2 degrees Celsius, 6.9 degrees higher than the station's mean maximum.
Heat waves are classified as three consecutive days where very high maximum and minimum temperatures are recorded.
At the same time, record high temperatures were also reported on the other side of the continent, on the Antarctic Peninsula. Last month, the highest ever temperature — 18.3 degrees — was recorded at the Argentinian research station Esperanza Base.
Global Impact on Climate
The authors of the study said the local effects of climate change could have a global impact.
"Antarctica may be isolated from the rest of the continents by the Southern Ocean, but it has worldwide impacts," they said.
"It drives the global ocean conveyor belt, a constant system of deep-ocean circulation which transfers oceanic heat around the planet, and its melting ice sheet adds to global sea-level rise."
Co-author Dana Bergstrom said the hot summer could affect local populations positively at first, but could also lead to drought and heat stress on species adapted for the cold.
"Most life exists in small ice-free oases in Antarctica, and depends on melting snow and ice for their water supply," said Bergstrom, a principal scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division.
While an increase in meltwater flooding associated with higher temperatures could provide extra water to such ecosystems – helping them on a short-term basis - it could also dislodge plants and radically change the composition of communities of invertebrates and microbes.
"Based on our experience from previous anomalous hot summers in Antarctica we can expect a multitude of biological impacts to be reported in coming years, illustrating how climate change is impacting even the most remote areas of the planet," the study said.
Contributors to the research came from Australia's University of Wollongong, the University of Tasmania and the government agency Australian Antarctic Division.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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Anyone who's tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and "outplanting," or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.
Coral Gardening<p>Coral reefs <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/marine-life/coral-reef-ecosystems" target="_blank">support over 25% of marine life</a> by providing food, shelter and a place for fish and other organisms to reproduce and raise young. Today, <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content" target="_blank">ocean warming driven by climate change</a> is stressing reefs worldwide.</p><p>Rising ocean temperatures cause <a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralreef-climate.html#:%7E:text=Climate%20change%20leads%20to%3A,to%20the%20smothering%20of%20coral." target="_blank">bleaching events</a> – episodes in which corals expel the algae that live inside them and provide the corals with most of their food, as well as their vibrant colors. When corals lose their algae, they become less resistant to stressors such as disease and eventually may die.</p><p>Hundreds of organizations worldwide are working to restore damaged coral reefs by growing thousands of small coral fragments in nurseries, which may be onshore in laboratories or in the ocean near degraded reefs. Then scuba divers physically plant them at restoration sites.</p>
Sea surface temperatures on Aug. 3, 2020, measured from satellites. Warning = possible bleaching; Alert Level 1 = significant bleaching likely; Alert Level 2 = severe bleaching and significant mortality likely. NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Warmer Oceans<p>Climate scientists project that the oceans will <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/ar5_wgII_spm_en-1.pdf" target="_blank">warm up to 3˚C</a> by the year 2100. Scientists are working to create coral outplants that can <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721415116" target="_blank">better survive increases in temperature</a>, which could help to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1978" target="_blank">increase restoration success</a> in the future.</p><p>When coral restoration experts choose where to outplant, they typically consider what's on the seafloor, algae that could smother coral, predators that eat coral and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.1792" target="_blank">presence of fish</a>. Our study shows that using temperature data and other information collected remotely from airplanes and satellites could help to <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00079" target="_blank">optimize this process</a>. Remote sensing, which scientists have used to study coral reefs for almost 40 years, can provide information on much larger scales than water surveys.</p><p>Coral reefs face an uncertain future and may not recover naturally from human-caused climate change. Conserving them will require reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting key habitats and actively restoring reefs. I hope that our research on temperature will help increase coral outplant survival and restoration success.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/shawna-foo-1136932" target="_blank">Shawna Foo</a> is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Arizona State University. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Shawna Foo receives funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/ocean-warming-threatens-coral-reefs-and-soon-could-make-it-harder-to-restore-them-142876" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>.</em><em></em></p>
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