Global Warming in the Antarctic
By Michael Warr
After 40 years of being away I returned to the Antarctic in 2005. Even with over 98 percent of Antarctica being ice, global warming has started to change the fifth largest contient. In the 1960s I had worked on the Antarctic Peninsula as a meteorologist, and I drove huskies. (Environmental concerns that the Antarctic-born huskies were an alien species meant that by 1994 all the huskies were removed from the Antarctic). A major change has been the increase from a few hundred tourists in the 1960s to the present number of over 30,000 Anatractic visitors annually. But the greatest change has been the effects of global warming. Comparing my meteorological records from forty years ago to those of the present has added to the evidence that changes have occurred in Antarctica.
The effects are not immediately obvious to Antarctic visitors even though the temperature has increased by 2.5 degrees C over the last few decades. There are still masses of ice, glaciers, and frigid waters along the Antarctic Peninsula. I had spent a year at Adelaide Island in Marguerite Bay forty years ago with no fur seals, now they lazed around on the rocks of the closed down base. In the 1960s the seals lived 700 kilometers to the north. Now they are spread all along the Antarctic Peninsula. In some breeding areas there is concern that the huge numbers, now in the millions, will destroy other Antarctic flora and fauna habitats.
The increase in temperature means less sea ice. Less sea ice has meant less krill larvae, (krill are the shrimp-like creatures that most Antarctic marine life depend on for food). This affects the more southerly Adelie penguins' feeding habits. The more northerly gentoo penguins are surviving the increased temperatures, though some recent warm summers with temperatures over 8 degrees C has resulted in penguin heat exhaustion.
The only two flowering Antarctic plants, the hair grass and the pearlwort, have increased their range and area. There are more plants growing, and they are now found as far south as 68 degrees latitude.
87% of the glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula region have retreated in the last fifty years. This rapid change has not been evident for thousands of years. Ice shelves have lost much of their ice; some have now disappeared. Antarctic ice drill cores have shown the fastest and highest jumps in temperature over the last 900,000 years has been in the last 200 years. Human activity has affected not only the temperate and tropical parts of the world, but also the polar areas. The edges of the north and south polar-regions are more vulnerable to change that the zones in between. Global warming is changing our world.
Michael Warr worked as a meteorologist and dog handler in the Antarctic in the 1960s. He returned as an Antarctic tourist in on an icebreaker in 2005, and was an Antarctic historian on a cruise ship in 2006.
He taught in British Columbia and is now retired. His activities are running, reading and gardening. He wrote a book on the Antarctic: South of Sixty .His website is http://www.antarcticmemoriespublishing.com
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