September 24, 2012

Icy Antarctica is a Hot Bed For Discovery

Antarctica is known for being a scientific hotspot (despite the freezing cold!) for measuring the effects of climate change, and today there are multiple scientific research stations (such as the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, as well as McMurdo station on Ross Island and Palmer station on Anvers Island) that help scientists stay up-to-date on what climate change is affecting and how.

In 2008, scientists discovered the fossil of a lake ostracod in the Dry Valleys of East Antarctica. No other fossil like it has been found on the entire continent of Antarctica. The fossil finding provided evidence that  this region of Antarctica was much warmer- warm enough to support lake fauna with ostracods- about 14 million years ago. Since that period, it is blatantly apparent that Antarctica has experienced a substantial and intense cooling which has since buried these lakes under layers and layers of ice. What was once a tundra is now an iceland. These findings have given scientists a better understanding of how the Antarctic ice-sheet developed, which will in turn allow them to better understand the effects of global warming.

In recent years, researchers have discovered that the retreat of sea ice in some parts of Antarctica is detrimentally affecting some Antarctic species, and the recent warming of water temperature is adding to the proliferation of  undersea giants in the region.

Look at the size of these sea stars! They’re huge! Antarctica is also the prime location for researchers to follow the changing state of our ozone layer as well as the further implications of global warming’s effects on the environment as a whole.

However, the effects of climate change aren’t the only things Antarctica is revealing to scientists. Researchers are also currently studying adaptations of various life-forms that allow them to withstand the harsh conditions of living in Antarctica as well as how those adaptations may be used to benefit human health. They are also studying how they themselves and other researchers are faring in the conditions of the Antarctic in hopes of learning how humans could survive other extreme ecosystems.

Research in Antarctica may hold many of the answers we seek about the future of the planet in the context of climate change as well as many other fascinating findings. If you want to know more about all the different types of research going on in Antarctica check out the United States Antarctic Program.

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