Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Antarctica


Despite concerted international effort to track and interpret shifts in the abundance and distribution of Adélie penguins, large populations continue to be identified. Here we report on a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance identified in the Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). We present the first complete census of Pygoscelis spp. penguins in the Danger Islands, estimated from a multi-modal survey consisting of direct ground counts and computer-automated counts of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery. Our survey reveals that the Danger Islands host 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of AP region combined, and include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world. Our results validate the use of Landsat medium-resolution satellite imagery for the detection of new or unknown penguin colonies and highlight the utility of combining satellite imagery with ground and UAV surveys. The Danger Islands appear to have avoided recent declines documented on the Western AP and, because they are large and likely to remain an important hotspot for avian abundance under projected climate change, deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region.

Concepts: Climate change, Seabird, Penguin, Remote sensing, Antarctica, Aerial photography, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Unmanned vehicles


Recent climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula is well documented [1-5], with warming, alongside increases in precipitation, wind strength, and melt season length [1, 6, 7], driving environmental change [8, 9]. However, meteorological records mostly began in the 1950s, and paleoenvironmental datasets that provide a longer-term context to recent climate change are limited in number and often from single sites [7] and/or discontinuous in time [10, 11]. Here we use moss bank cores from a 600-km transect from Green Island (65.3°S) to Elephant Island (61.1°S) as paleoclimate archives sensitive to regional temperature change, moderated by water availability and surface microclimate [12, 13]. Mosses grow slowly, but cold temperatures minimize decomposition, facilitating multi-proxy analysis of preserved peat [14]. Carbon isotope discrimination (Δ(13)C) in cellulose indicates the favorability of conditions for photosynthesis [15]. Testate amoebae are representative heterotrophs in peatlands [16-18], so their populations are an indicator of microbial productivity [14]. Moss growth and mass accumulation rates represent the balance between growth and decomposition [19]. Analyzing these proxies in five cores at three sites over 150 years reveals increased biological activity over the past ca. 50 years, in response to climate change. We identified significant changepoints in all sites and proxies, suggesting fundamental and widespread changes in the terrestrial biosphere. The regional sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that terrestrial ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of this iconic region-an Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic [20].

Concepts: Plant, Climate, Weather, Temperature, Antarctica, Cold, Peat, Moss


Australian dinosaurs have played a rare but controversial role in the debate surrounding the effect of Gondwanan break-up on Cretaceous dinosaur distribution. Major spatiotemporal gaps in the Gondwanan Cretaceous fossil record, coupled with taxon incompleteness, have hindered research on this effect, especially in Australia. Here we report on two new sauropod specimens from the early Late Cretaceous of Queensland, Australia, that have important implications for Cretaceous dinosaur palaeobiogeography. Savannasaurus elliottorum gen. et sp. nov. comprises one of the most complete Cretaceous sauropod skeletons ever found in Australia, whereas a new specimen of Diamantinasaurus matildae includes the first ever cranial remains of an Australian sauropod. The results of a new phylogenetic analysis, in which both Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus are recovered within Titanosauria, were used as the basis for a quantitative palaeobiogeographical analysis of macronarian sauropods. Titanosaurs achieved a worldwide distribution by at least 125 million years ago, suggesting that mid-Cretaceous Australian sauropods represent remnants of clades which were widespread during the Early Cretaceous. These lineages would have entered Australasia via dispersal from South America, presumably across Antarctica. High latitude sauropod dispersal might have been facilitated by Albian-Turonian warming that lifted a palaeoclimatic dispersal barrier between Antarctica and South America.

Concepts: Continent, Pacific Ocean, Cretaceous, Antarctica, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Macronaria


Anthropogenic carbon emissions lock in long-term sea-level rise that greatly exceeds projections for this century, posing profound challenges for coastal development and cultural legacies. Analysis based on previously published relationships linking emissions to warming and warming to rise indicates that unabated carbon emissions up to the year 2100 would commit an eventual global sea-level rise of 4.3-9.9 m. Based on detailed topographic and population data, local high tide lines, and regional long-term sea-level commitment for different carbon emissions and ice sheet stability scenarios, we compute the current population living on endangered land at municipal, state, and national levels within the United States. For unabated climate change, we find that land that is home to more than 20 million people is implicated and is widely distributed among different states and coasts. The total area includes 1,185-1,825 municipalities where land that is home to more than half of the current population would be affected, among them at least 21 cities exceeding 100,000 residents. Under aggressive carbon cuts, more than half of these municipalities would avoid this commitment if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet remains stable. Similarly, more than half of the US population-weighted area under threat could be spared. We provide lists of implicated cities and state populations for different emissions scenarios and with and without a certain collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Although past anthropogenic emissions already have caused sea-level commitment that will force coastal cities to adapt, future emissions will determine which areas we can continue to occupy or may have to abandon.

Concepts: Sea level, Ice sheet, Oceanography, Climate change, Antarctica, Global warming, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Antarctic ice sheet


Lake Vostok, the 7(th) largest (by volume) and 4(th) deepest lake on Earth, is covered by more than 3,700 m of ice, making it the largest subglacial lake known. The combination of cold, heat (from possible hydrothermal activity), pressure (from the overriding glacier), limited nutrients and complete darkness presents extreme challenges to life. Here, we report metagenomic/metatranscriptomic sequence analyses from four accretion ice sections from the Vostok 5G ice core. Two sections accreted in the vicinity of an embayment on the southwestern end of the lake, and the other two represented part of the southern main basin. We obtained 3,507 unique gene sequences from concentrates of 500 ml of 0.22 µm-filtered accretion ice meltwater. Taxonomic classifications (to genus and/or species) were possible for 1,623 of the sequences. Species determinations in combination with mRNA gene sequence results allowed deduction of the metabolic pathways represented in the accretion ice and, by extension, in the lake. Approximately 94% of the sequences were from Bacteria and 6% were from Eukarya. Only two sequences were from Archaea. In general, the taxa were similar to organisms previously described from lakes, brackish water, marine environments, soil, glaciers, ice, lake sediments, deep-sea sediments, deep-sea thermal vents, animals and plants. Sequences from aerobic, anaerobic, psychrophilic, thermophilic, halophilic, alkaliphilic, acidophilic, desiccation-resistant, autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms were present, including a number from multicellular eukaryotes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Species, Antarctica


A “Christmas holiday effect” showing elevated cardiovascular mortality over the Christmas holidays (December 25 to January 7) was demonstrated previously in study from the United States. To separate the effect of seasonality from any holiday effect, a matching analysis was conducted for New Zealand, where the Christmas holiday period falls within the summer season.

Concepts: United States, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Autumn, New York City, Antarctica, Christmas, Northern Hemisphere


Long-term survival has been one of the most studied of the extraordinary physiological characteristics of cryptobiosis in micrometazoans such as nematodes, tardigrades and rotifers. In the available studies of long-term survival of micrometazoans, instances of survival have been the primary observation, and recovery conditions of animals or subsequent reproduction are generally not reported. We therefore documented recovery conditions and reproduction immediately following revival of tardigrades retrieved from a frozen moss sample collected in Antarctica in 1983 and stored at -20°C for 30.5 years. We recorded recovery of two individuals and development of a separate egg of the Antarctic tardigrade, Acutuncus antarcticus, providing the longest records of survival for tardigrades as animals or eggs. One of the two resuscitated individuals and the hatchling successfully reproduced repeatedly after their recovery from long-term cryptobiosis. This considerable extension of the known length of long-term survival of tardigrades recorded in our study is interpreted as being associated with the minimum oxidative damage likely to have resulted from storage under stable frozen conditions. The long recovery times of the revived tardigrades observed is suggestive of the requirement for repair of damage accrued over 30 years of cryptobiosis. Further more detailed studies will improve understanding of mechanisms and conditions underlying the long-term survival of cryptobiotic organisms.

Concepts: Arthropod, Cultural studies, Tardigrade, Trehalose, Antarctica, Cryptobiosis, Antarctic Circle, Antarctic


The flood hazard in New York City depends on both storm surges and rising sea levels. We combine modeled storm surges with probabilistic sea-level rise projections to assess future coastal inundation in New York City from the preindustrial era through 2300 CE. The storm surges are derived from large sets of synthetic tropical cyclones, downscaled from RCP8.5 simulations from three CMIP5 models. The sea-level rise projections account for potential partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet in assessing future coastal inundation. CMIP5 models indicate that there will be minimal change in storm-surge heights from 2010 to 2100 or 2300, because the predicted strengthening of the strongest storms will be compensated by storm tracks moving offshore at the latitude of New York City. However, projected sea-level rise causes overall flood heights associated with tropical cyclones in New York City in coming centuries to increase greatly compared with preindustrial or modern flood heights. For the various sea-level rise scenarios we consider, the 1-in-500-y flood event increases from 3.4 m above mean tidal level during 1970-2005 to 4.0-5.1 m above mean tidal level by 2080-2100 and ranges from 5.0-15.4 m above mean tidal level by 2280-2300. Further, we find that the return period of a 2.25-m flood has decreased from ∼500 y before 1800 to ∼25 y during 1970-2005 and further decreases to ∼5 y by 2030-2045 in 95% of our simulations. The 2.25-m flood height is permanently exceeded by 2280-2300 for scenarios that include Antarctica’s potential partial collapse.

Concepts: Oceanography, Storm, New York City, Tropical cyclone, Antarctica, Flood, Storm surge, Weather hazards


The subtropical ocean gyres are recognized as great marine accummulation zones of floating plastic debris; however, the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources. In the present study, the Arctic Ocean was extensively sampled for floating plastic debris from the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition. Although plastic debris was scarce or absent in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations (hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer) in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. The fragmentation and typology of the plastic suggested an abundant presence of aged debris that originated from distant sources. This hypothesis was corroborated by the relatively high ratios of marine surface plastic to local pollution sources. Surface circulation models and field data showed that the poleward branch of the Thermohaline Circulation transfers floating debris from the North Atlantic to the Greenland and Barents seas, which would be a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt. Given the limited surface transport of the plastic that accumulated here and the mechanisms acting for the downward transport, the seafloor beneath this Arctic sector is hypothesized as an important sink of plastic debris.

Concepts: Earth, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Antarctica, Marine debris


The contribution of climate change to shifts in a species' geographic distribution is a critical and often unresolved ecological question. Climate change in Antarctica is asymmetric, with cooling in parts of the continent and warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is a circumpolar meso-predator exposed to the full range of Antarctic climate and is undergoing dramatic population shifts coincident with climate change. We used true presence-absence data on Adélie penguin breeding colonies to estimate past and future changes in habitat suitability during the chick-rearing period based on historic satellite observations and future climate model projections. During the contemporary period, declining Adélie penguin populations experienced more years with warm sea surface temperature compared to populations that are increasing. Based on this relationship, we project that one-third of current Adélie penguin colonies, representing ~20% of their current population, may be in decline by 2060. However, climate model projections suggest refugia may exist in continental Antarctica beyond 2099, buffering species-wide declines. Climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be highly site specific based on regional climate trends, and a southward contraction in the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century.

Concepts: Climate, Climate change, Penguin, Antarctica, Sea surface temperature, Southern Ocean, Pygoscelis, Antarctic Peninsula