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

Concept: Southern Ocean


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


Hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean are the physiologically most isolated chemosynthetic environments known. Here, we describe Kiwa tyleri sp. nov., the first species of yeti crab known from the Southern Ocean. Kiwa tyleri belongs to the family Kiwaidae and is the visually dominant macrofauna of two known vent sites situated on the northern and southern segments of the East Scotia Ridge (ESR). The species is known to depend on primary productivity by chemosynthetic bacteria and resides at the warm-eurythermal vent environment for most of its life; its short-range distribution away from vents (few metres) is physiologically constrained by the stable, cold waters of the surrounding Southern Ocean. Kiwa tylerihas been shown to present differential life history adaptations in response to this contrasting thermal environment. Morphological adaptations specific to life in warm-eurythermal waters, as found on - or in close proximity of - vent chimneys, are discussed in comparison with adaptations seen in the other two known members of the family (K. hirsuta, K. puravida), which show a preference for low temperature chemosynthetic environments.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Anomura, Southern Ocean, Chemosynthesis, Kiwa hirsuta, Squat lobster, Kiwa


In recent decades, many marine populations have experienced major declines in abundance, but we still know little about where management interventions may help protect the highest levels of marine biodiversity. We used modeled spatial distribution data for nearly 12,500 species to quantify global patterns of species richness and two measures of endemism. By combining these data with spatial information on cumulative human impacts, we identified priority areas where marine biodiversity is most and least impacted by human activities, both within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). Our analyses highlighted places that are both accepted priorities for marine conservation like the Coral Triangle, as well as less well-known locations in the southwest Indian Ocean, western Pacific Ocean, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, and within semi-enclosed seas like the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. Within highly impacted priority areas, climate and fishing were the biggest stressors. Although new priorities may arise as we continue to improve marine species range datasets, results from this work are an essential first step in guiding limited resources to regions where investment could best sustain marine biodiversity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Southern Ocean


Using top predators as sentinels of the marine environment, Hg contamination was investigated within the large subantarctic seabird community of Kerguelen Islands, a remote area from the poorly known Southern Indian Ocean. Chicks of 21 sympatric seabirds presented a wide range of Hg concentrations, with the highest contaminated species containing ∼102 times more feather Hg than the less contaminated species. Hence, Kerguelen seabirds encompass the whole range of chick feather Hg values that were previously collected worldwide in poorly industrialized localities. Using stable isotopes, the effects of foraging habitats (reflected by δ(13)C) and trophic positions (reflected by δ(15)N) on Hg concentrations were investigated. Species-related Hg variations were highly and positively linked to feather δ(15)N values, thus highlighting the occurrence of efficient Hg biomagnification processes within subantarctic marine trophic webs. By contrast, Hg contamination overall correlated poorly with feeding habitats, because of the pooling of species foraging within different isotopic gradients corresponding to distinct seabird habitats (benthic, pelagic, neritic and oceanic). However, when focusing on oceanic seabirds, Hg concentration was related to feather δ(13)C values, with species feeding in colder waters (lower δ(13)C values) south of Kerguelen Islands being less prone to be contaminated than species feeding in northern warmer waters (higher δ(13)C values). Within the context of continuous increase in global Hg emissions, Kerguelen Islands that are located far away from anthropogenic sources can be considered as an ideal study site to monitor the temporal trend of global Hg contamination. The present work helps selecting some seabird species as sentinels of environmental pollution according to their high Hg concentrations and their contrasted foraging ecology.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Bird, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Southern Ocean, Subantarctic, Kerguelen Islands


In the context of global warming, the question of why Antarctic sea ice extent (SIE) has increased is one of the most fundamental unsolved mysteries. Although many mechanisms have been proposed, it is still unclear whether the increasing trend is anthropogenically originated or only caused by internal natural variability. In this study, we employ a new method where the underlying natural persistence in the Antarctic SIE can be correctly accounted for. We find that the Antarctic SIE is not simply short-term persistent as assumed in the standard significance analysis, but actually characterized by a combination of both short- and long-term persistence. By generating surrogate data with the same persistence properties, the SIE trends over Antarctica (as well as five sub-regions) are evaluated using Monte-Carlo simulations. It is found that the SIE trends over most sub-regions of Antarctica are not statistically significant. Only the SIE over Ross Sea has experienced a highly significant increasing trend (p = 0.008) which cannot be explained by natural variability. Influenced by the positive SIE trend over Ross Sea, the SIE over the entire Antarctica also increased over the past decades, but the trend is only at the edge of being significant (p = 0.034).

Concepts: Statistics, Statistical significance, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Antarctic Circle, Antarctic, Antarctic Convergence, Unsolved Mysteries


Strong heat loss and brine release during sea ice formation in coastal polynyas act to cool and salinify waters on the Antarctic continental shelf. Polynya activity thus both limits the ocean heat flux to the Antarctic Ice Sheet and promotes formation of Dense Shelf Water (DSW), the precursor to Antarctic Bottom Water. However, despite the presence of strong polynyas, DSW is not formed on the Sabrina Coast in East Antarctica and in the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica. Using a simple ocean model driven by observed forcing, we show that freshwater input from basal melt of ice shelves partially offsets the salt flux by sea ice formation in polynyas found in both regions, preventing full-depth convection and formation of DSW. In the absence of deep convection, warm water that reaches the continental shelf in the bottom layer does not lose much heat to the atmosphere and is thus available to drive the rapid basal melt observed at the Totten Ice Shelf on the Sabrina Coast and at the Dotson and Getz ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea. Our results suggest that increased glacial meltwater input in a warming climate will both reduce Antarctic Bottom Water formation and trigger increased mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, with consequences for the global overturning circulation and sea level rise.

Concepts: Water, Ice sheet, Antarctica, Ice shelf, Glaciology, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Southern Ocean, Sea ice


Closely related organisms with transoceanic distributions have long been the focus of historical biogeography, prompting the question of whether long-distance dispersal, or tectonic-driven vicariance shaped their current distribution. Regarding the Southern Hemisphere continents, this question deals with the break-up of the Gondwanan landmass, which has also affected global wind and oceanic current patterns since the Miocene. With the advent of phylogenetic node age estimation and parametric bioinformatic advances, researchers have been able to disentangle historical evolutionary processes of taxa with greater accuracy. In this study, we used the coastal spider genus Amaurobioides to investigate the historical biogeographical and evolutionary processes that shaped the modern-day distribution of species of this exceptional genus of spiders. As the only genus of the subfamily Amaurobioidinae found on three Southern Hemisphere continents, its distribution is well-suited to study in the context of Gondwanic vicariance versus long-distance, transoceanic dispersal. Ancestral species of the genus Amaurobioides appear to have undergone several long-distance dispersal events followed by successful establishments and speciation, starting from the mid-Miocene through to the Pleistocene. The most recent common ancestor of all present-day Amaurobioides species is estimated to have originated in Africa after arriving from South America during the Miocene. From Africa the subsequent dispersals are likely to have taken place predominantly in an eastward direction. The long-distance dispersal events by Amaurobioides mostly involved transoceanic crossings, which we propose occurred by rafting, aided by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the West Wind Drift.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Pacific Ocean, South America, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Antarctic Circumpolar Current


Upwelling of global deep waters to the sea surface in the Southern Ocean closes the global overturning circulation and is fundamentally important for oceanic uptake of carbon and heat, nutrient resupply for sustaining oceanic biological production, and the melt rate of ice shelves. However, the exact pathways and role of topography in Southern Ocean upwelling remain largely unknown. Here we show detailed upwelling pathways in three dimensions, using hydrographic observations and particle tracking in high-resolution models. The analysis reveals that the northern-sourced deep waters enter the Antarctic Circumpolar Current via southward flow along the boundaries of the three ocean basins, before spiraling southeastward and upward through the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Upwelling is greatly enhanced at five major topographic features, associated with vigorous mesoscale eddy activity. Deep water reaches the upper ocean predominantly south of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with a spatially nonuniform distribution. The timescale for half of the deep water to upwell from 30° S to the mixed layer is ~60-90 years.Deep waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans upwell in the Southern Oceanbut the exact pathways are not fully characterized. Here the authors present a three dimensional view showing a spiralling southward path, with enhanced upwelling by eddy-transport at topographic hotspots.

Concepts: Dimension, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Drake Passage, Antarctic Circumpolar Current


The world’s Arctic latitudes are some of the most recently colonized by birds, and an understanding of the migratory connectivity of circumpolar species offers insights into the mechanisms of range expansion and speciation. Migratory divides exist for many birds, however for many taxa it is unclear where such boundaries lie, and to what extent these affect the connectivity of species breeding across their ranges. Sabine’s gulls (Xema sabini) have a patchy, circumpolar breeding distribution and overwinter in two ecologically similar areas in different ocean basins: the Humboldt Current off the coast of Peru in the Pacific, and the Benguela Current off the coasts of South Africa and Namibia in the Atlantic. We used geolocators to track Sabine’s gulls breeding at a colony in the Canadian High Arctic to determine their migratory pathways and wintering sites. Our study provides evidence that birds from this breeding site disperse to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans during the non-breeding season, which suggests that a migratory divide for this species exists in the Nearctic. Remarkably, members of one mated pair wintered in opposite oceans. Our results ultimately suggest that colonization of favorable breeding habitat may be one of the strongest drivers of range expansion in the High Arctic.

Concepts: Earth, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Canada, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Antarctica, Southern Ocean


Contrasting Greenland and Antarctic temperatures during the last glacial period (115,000 to 11,650 years ago) are thought to have been driven by imbalances in the rates of formation of North Atlantic and Antarctic Deep Water (the ‘bipolar seesaw’). Here we exploit a bidecadally resolved (14)C data set obtained from New Zealand kauri (Agathis australis) to undertake high-precision alignment of key climate data sets spanning iceberg-rafted debris event Heinrich 3 and Greenland Interstadial (GI) 5.1 in the North Atlantic (~30,400 to 28,400 years ago). We observe no divergence between the kauri and Atlantic marine sediment (14)C data sets, implying limited changes in deep water formation. However, a Southern Ocean (Atlantic-sector) iceberg rafted debris event appears to have occurred synchronously with GI-5.1 warming and decreased precipitation over the western equatorial Pacific and Atlantic. An ensemble of transient meltwater simulations shows that Antarctic-sourced salinity anomalies can generate climate changes that are propagated globally via an atmospheric Rossby wave train.A challenge for testing mechanisms of past climate change is the precise correlation of palaeoclimate records. Here, through climate modelling and the alignment of terrestrial, ice and marine (14)C and (10)Be records, the authors show that Southern Ocean freshwater hosing can trigger global change.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Agathis, Agathis australis