Environmental Change in the Antarctic

Alongside climate changes, shifts in ocean circulation and sea ice are having major impacts on the flora and fauna across the region.



The Southern Ocean and Antarctic continent are currently experiencing substantial environmental change. Since the mid-twentieth century, dramatic changes in ocean circulation, air-carbon fluxes, sea ice cover, and ecological systems have taken place. A major constraint is the paucity of records across the region. As a result, the scientific community are not sure just how unusual these changes are when placed in the context of the last century and beyond. The Antarctic Science Project is developing new tools to investigate past environmental variability to extend the observational record and gain a better understanding of the drivers and future trajectory in a warming world.


Our work encompasses environmental monitoring of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica (including sea birds and benthic fauna), detailed analyses of ice core records from the Antarctic continent, terrestrial and marine sediment records, and investigations into sub-fossil wood the latter on subantarctic islands), all with the aim of placing contemporary changes in a long-term context. Crucial in this regard is developing  techniques that allow new insights into processes not available through traditional methods. For instance, the picture above is of Professor Alan Cooper filtering the melted ice for DNA back at the University of Adelaide. On the subantarctics, we're measuring the radiocarbon content of absolutely-dated tree-rings as a measure of old Southern Ocean waters venting into the atmosphere. Such methods have not been applied across the region before and are already delivering a rich scientific trove.


Key collaborators: Michael Bird (James Cook University), Niels Munksgaard (JCU), Kerry-Jayne Wilson (West Coast Penguin Trust), Tas van Ommen (Australian Antarctic Division and University of Tasmania), Andrew Moy (AAD/UTas), Mark Curran (AAD/UTas), David Etheridge (The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Mauro Rubino (CSIRO), David Thornton (CSIRO), Janet Wilmshurst  (Landcare Research, New Zealand), Matt McGlone (Landcare Research, New Zealand), Graeme Clark (UNSW), Ezequiel 'Ziggy' Marzinelli  (UNSW/SIMS), Jonathan Palmer (University of New South Wales), and Richard Jones (University of Exeter, UK).


If you would like to learn more, check out some of our recent research papers:


Turney, C.S.M., Palmer, J., Hogg, A., Fogwill, C.J., Jones, R., Ramsey, C., Fenwick, P., Grierson, P., Wilmshurst, J., O’Donnell, A., Thomas, Z., and Lipson, M. (2016) Multi-decadal variations in Southern Hemisphere atmospheric 14C: Evidence against a Southern Ocean sink during the Little Ice Age CO2 anomaly. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, doi: 10.1002/2015GB005257.


Fogwill, C.J., van Sebille, E., Cougnon, E.A., Turney, C.S.M., Rintoul, S.R., Clark, G.F., Marzinelli, E.M., Rainsley, E.B. and Carter, L. (2016) Impacts of a developing polynya off Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, triggered by grounding of iceberg B09B. The Cryosphere, 10, 2603–2609. Reported in Nature Geoscience by Tynan, E. (2016), 9, 869.


Wilson, K.-J., Turney, C., Fogwill, C. and Blair, E. (2016) The impact of the giant iceberg B09B on population size and breeding success of Adélie penguins in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica. Antarctic Science, doi: 10.1017/S0954102015000644.


Wood, J.R., Wilmshurst, J.M., Turney, C.S.M. and Fogwill, C. (2016) Palaeoecological signatures of vegetation change induced by herbivory regime shifts on subantarctic Enderby Island. Quaternary Science Reviews, 134, 51-58.


Clark, G., Marzinelli, E.M., Fogwill, C., Turney, C. and Johnston, E.L. (2015) Effects of sea-ice cover on marine benthic communities: A natural experiment in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica. Polar Biology, 38, 1213-1222.


van Sebille, E., Waterman, S., Barthel, A., Lumpkin, R., Keating, S.R., Fogwill, C. and Turney, C. (2015). Pairwise surface drifter dispersion in the western Pacific Sector of the Southern Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans, 120, 6769-6781, doi: 10.1002/2015JC010972.


Wilmshurst, J.M., McGlone, M.S. and Turney, C.S.M. (2015) Long-term ecology resolves the timing, region of origin and process of establishment for a disputed alien tree. Annals of Botany Plants 7, doi: 10.1093/aobpla/plv104.


Wilson, K.-J., Turney, C., Fogwill, C. and Hunter, J. (2015) Low numbers and apparent long-term stability of south polar skuas Stercorarius maccormicki at Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica. Marine Ornithology, 43, 103-106.