Ecology Antarctic Environments and Ecology
Roberto Bargagli
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0022


Greek philosophers suggested the existence of a southern landmass (Antarktikos) to “balance” the weight of lands known to exist in the Northern Hemisphere (under the constellation of Arktos). The existence of the continent remained a matter of speculation for a long time, and even Captain James Cook (b. 1728–d. 1779), who crossed the Antarctic Circle in January 1773, failed to see the Terra Australis Incognita. At last, the reports from the “heroic era” expeditions (1895–1915) convinced most geographers that the scattered landfalls marked the edge of a continent. With the advent of aircrafts, through the US Navy Operation “Highjump” (1946–1947) and the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958), the continent was thoroughly mapped. Over the last five decades, international cooperation in research and logistics, within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty and the Special Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) coordination, has greatly increased our knowledge of Antarctica. The continent covers an area of 14 million km2 (about 10 percent of the land surface of the Earth) and, apart from the northern part of Antarctic Peninsula, lies south of the Antarctic Circle. The land rises rapidly away from the coast, and Antarctica has the highest mean elevation (2,200 m) of any continent on Earth. The weight of the massive ice sheet depresses Antarctica, and its continental shelf is unusually deep (up to 800 m). Although distance and atmospheric and ocean circulation isolate the continent from the rest of the world, Antarctica is inextricably linked to global processes, and the Southern Ocean plays a prominent role in the sequestration of carbon and the transport of nutrients throughout the world’s oceans. The extreme environment (temperature down to –89.2°C at Vostok Station, wind speed up to 327 km/h; mean precipitation 166 m) is a natural laboratory for studying organism evolutionary adaptations and for reconstructing Earth’s paleoclimate. The elevation of the continent, combined with the dry and clean atmosphere, allows unique astronomical observations and investigations of Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. Scientific research is the main reason for human presence in Antarctica and is contributing to a better understanding of the functioning of Earth’s system. The general public, impressed by the accounts of early explorers and television programs, perceives Antarctica as remote and hostile, inhabited only by penguins and seals. For many environmentally conscious people, however, this place is a global conservation symbol and, one hopes, is raising sufficient awareness and concern among the new generations to replace the old view of it as a hostile and useless environment.

General Overviews

Antarctica is composed of two major distinct blocks (East Antarctica and West Antarctica) bridged by a vast ice sheet. The review by Talarico and Kleinschmidt 2009 and papers in Fütterer, et al. 2006 on geological evolution of the continent and the Southern Ocean are useful to understand present-day Antarctic environments and ecosystems. Ingólfsson 2004 provides an accessible chapter on glacial and climate history of Antarctica, and King and Turner 1997 a comprehensive survey of Antarctic meteorology and climatology. Clarke 2003 introduces historical processes that have driven the evolution of Antarctic organisms. Convey, et al. 2009 explores novel biological constraints for reconstructing this history. Stonehouse 2002 provides an easily accessible overview of Antarctic explorations, geology, geography, and the other scientific disciplines. Turner, et al. 2009 is an up-to-date account of how the physical and biological history of Antarctica changed in the past and may change in the next century.

  • Clarke, Andrew. 2003. Evolution, adaptation and diversity: Global ecology in an Antarctic context. In Antarctic biology in a global context: Proceedings of the VIIIth SCAR international biology symposium, 27 August–1 September 2001. Edited by Ad H. L. Huiskes, Winfried W. C Gieskes, Jelte Rozema, Raymond M. L. Schorno, Saskia M. van der Vies, and Wim J. Wolff, 3–17. Leiden, The Netherlands: Backhuys.

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    Article that emphasizes how the tectonic evolution of Gondwana has dictated which organisms are currently found in Antarctica and how the glacial history has driven both evolution and extinctions. This knowledge may help to predict what may happen in the face of future climate change.

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  • Convey, Peter, Mark I. Stevens, Dominic A. Hodgson, et al. 2009. Exploring biological constraints on the glacial history of Antarctica. Quaternary Science Reviews 28:3035–3048.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.08.015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although most glaciological models and geomorphological field data suggest that ice covered most terrestrial habitats during the last glacial period and/or previous glacial maxima, new evolutionary and biogeographic data suggest the persistence of Antarctic biota through multiple glacial cycles. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Fütterer, Dieter K., Detlef Damaske, Georg Kleinschmidt, Hubert Miller, and Franz Tessensohn, eds. 2006. Antarctica: Contribution to global earth science. Berlin: Springer.

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    Sixty articles from speakers at the IX International Symposium of Antarctic Earth Sciences, arranged in eight thematic sections and highlighting the results of geophysical, geological, and sedimentological research in the continent and the Southern Ocean. The book offers a historical perspective of research activities in Antarctica and emphasizes the connection between Antarctica and the surrounding continents by comparing the continent’s scarce outcrops with those of the better-exposed parts of Gondwana.

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  • Ingólfsson, Ólafur. 2004. Quaternary glacial and climate history of Antarctica. In Quaternary glaciations: Extent and chronology, part III; South America, Asia, Africa, Australasia, Antarctica. Edited by Jürgen Ehlers and Philip L. Gibbard, 3–43. Developments in Quaternary Science 2. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1571-0866(04)80109-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A broad survey of the Quaternary history of the Antarctic ice sheet and its role in driving eustasy, deep-ocean circulation, and the global climate.

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  • King, John C., and John Turner. 1997. Antarctic meteorology and climatology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511524967Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic, accessible book on the topic.

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  • Stonehouse, Bernard, ed. 2002. Encyclopedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

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    Wide-ranging collection of twenty-five contributions, written under the direction of six advisory editors and providing a readily accessible cross-disciplinary coverage of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

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  • Talarico, Franco M., and Georg Kleinschmidt. 2009. The Antarctic continent in Gondwanaland: A tectonic review and potential research targets for future investigations. Development in Earth and Environmental Sciences 8:257–308.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1571-9197(08)00007-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A thorough and comprehensive review of geologic evolution and paleoclimate of the Antarctic continent, with a discussion on aspects not completely investigated or under debate. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Turner, John, Robert Bindschadler, Pete Convey, et al., eds. 2009. Antarctic climate change and the environment: A contribution to the International Polar Year 2007–2008. Cambridge, UK: Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

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    One hundred experts in Antarctic science have contributed to this highly cross-disciplinary volume published by SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research). It is suitable for graduate students and is an important resource for researchers interested in the role of Antarctica in global issues such as carbon uptake by oceans, sea-level rise, biodiversity, or the separation of natural climate variability from anthropogenic influences.

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Since 1964, several books on Antarctic environments and ecosystems have been published by and on behalf of SCAR biological symposia and by the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Holdgate 1970 and Llano 1972 provide a collection of still useful reports on Antarctic marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In the following years, as discussed in Fogg 1992, the international efforts to promote Antarctic research and the extraordinary development of scientific activities determined a shift from studies of prominent regional interest to investigations addressing major scientific issues and global problems. Weiler and Penhale 1994 provides a collection of accessible chapters on the effects of enhanced UV radiation on Antarctic organisms, and Bargagli 2005 gives an overview of the human impact in Antarctica and the occurrence of persistent contaminants from anthropogenic sources in the rest of the world. Hansom and Gordon 1998 discusses the changing perceptions of Antarctica and its resources and the role of science in facilitating international political agreements for an effective environmental management of the Earth’s least spoiled continent. McGonigal 2009 provides an illustrated guide to Antarctica’s environment, geography, and history, and Shirihai 2008 is a comprehensive guide to South polar wildlife.

  • Bargagli, Roberto. 2005. Antarctic ecosystems: Environmental contamination, climate change, and human impact. Ecological Studies 175. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

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    An accessible overview of the topics, suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

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  • Fogg, Elliott G. 1992. A History of Antarctic science. Studies in Polar Research Series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    With a foreword by Margaret Thatcher, this book describes the development of fieldwork in the Antarctic environment over the past three centuries, the role of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), and the rising of Antarctic science. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

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  • Hansom, James D., and John E. Gordon. 1998. Antarctic environment and resources: A geographical perspective. London: Addison Wesley Longman.

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    An accessible discussion highlighting the past and current environmental management of Antarctica. Interactions among legal, political, economic, scientific, and environmental interests are analyzed to attempt the formulation of a new environmental agenda for Antarctica.

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  • Holdgate, Martin W., ed. 1970. Antarctic Ecology. 2 vols. New York: Academic Press.

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    This collection of papers presented at the second SCAR symposium of the working group on biology has been for several years the most comprehensive text on Antarctic marine ecology (Vol. 1), and limnetic and terrestrial ecology (Vol. 2).

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  • Llano, George A., ed. 1972. Antarctic terrestrial biology. Antarctic Research Series 20. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.

    DOI: 10.1029/AR020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fine collection of thirteen original papers on systematics and ecology of terrestrial and freshwater organisms, emphasizing in situ experimental studies and the use of more sophisticated instrumentation for ecological fieldwork.

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  • McGonigal, David. 2009. Antarctica: Secrets of the Southern Continent. London: Frances Lincoln.

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    An illustrated guide to Antarctica’s environment, geography, history, and wildlife. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

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  • Shirihai, Hadoram. 2008. The complete guide to Antarctic wildlife: Birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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    An updated new edition of a comprehensive guide to birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic continent, the Southern Ocean and the subantarctic islands. It is a guide for trips to the far South as well as for undergraduate and graduate students interested in the natural history of Antarctica and its wildlife.

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  • Weiler, C. Susan, and Polly A. Penhale, eds. 1994. Ultraviolet radiation in Antarctica: Measurements and biological effects. Antarctic Research Series 62. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.

    DOI: 10.1029/AR062Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole resulted in an explosion of physical and biological research. This volume provides an accessible overview of the topic.

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Papers on Antarctic biology and ecology are published in several journals with a focus on species adaptation, ecosystem functioning, or general aspects on global processes driven by polar systems. Some international peer-reviewed journals published by national scientific societies or academies are specifically devoted to Antarctic or polar sciences. Among the most widespread are Antarctic Science, Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Polar Biology, Polarforschung, Polar Record, Polar Science, and the Polar Journal.

Ice Sheet

Despite the logistic and physical difficulties imposed by the extreme environment, the combination of fieldwork, aircraft, and satellite measurements produces a range of literature on the ice sheet covering about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. An overview of its recent history is provided in Anderson, et al. 2002. Liu and Jezek 2004 gives a complete and precise coastline of Antarctica and its glaciological characteristics, and Huybrechts, et al. 2000 offers a three-dimensional model of the ice sheet. A number of papers such as Vaughan, et al. 1999 and Rignot, et al. 2011 deal with the ice mass balance and the rather controversial contribution to sea-level rise. Cook, et al. 2005 documents the retreating trend of glacier fronts in the Antarctic Peninsula, and King, et al. 2007 shows the variability of ice flow velocities in an ice shelf. Among research activities on the Antarctic ice sheet, at least three can be mentioned: ice ablation and meteorites, ice core and the Earth’s paleoclimate, and subglacial lakes.

Ice Ablation and Meteorites

Meteorites can provide lithological and geochemical information of the inner solar system, and the highest concentrations of meteorites yet discovered on Earth occur in ablation areas at the edge of the Antarctic Plateau. Harvey 2003 reports the history of meteorite collection in Antarctica, their origin, and their significance; Cassidy, et al. 1992 provides accessible information on the sites where they are found; and Folco, et al. 2002 describes meteorite traps in blue ice fields. In 1996 an undergraduate student, unaware of which sample she was analyzing (the Antarctic meteorite ALH 84001), noted that the biomorph signs very much resembled features recorded in terrestrial samples. The announcement of possible traces of life on Mars caused considerable controversy, and since then the rock ALH 84001 has become the most closely studied in the scientific history. The debate over whether the organic molecules are of exobiologic origin, as maintained in McKay, et al. 2009, or due to contamination by contact with Antarctic ice (Steele, et al. 2000) is still going on.

Ice Core Records of Atmospheric Composition and Climate

The drilling of the Antarctic ice sheet provides the best record of atmospheric composition and climate through the past glacial-interglacial cycles. Air bubbles in the ice cores from the Vostok station (Petit, et al. 1999) showed the correlation between concentrations of greenhouse gases and Antarctic air temperature. Research in Lüthi, et al. 2008 and Loulergue, et al 2008 on the EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) Dome C ice core extends the history of atmospheric CO2 and CH4 back to 800,000 before the present. Lambert, et al. 2008 documents the coupling of the climates of Antarctic and lower latitudes with dust transport and deposition in the Antarctic ice sheet.

Subglacial Lakes

More than 380 lakes have been discovered under the Antarctic ice sheet, and these extreme environments represent one of the most fascinating subjects for future Antarctic science. The SCAR established a group of specialists (SALEGOS) to develop a plan for exploring the lakes without contamination. Siegert, et al. 2011 provides an up-to-date discussion about the history and available knowledge of Antarctic subglacial lakes and suggests the best practices for their exploration. In conflict with general expectations that the subglacial lakes have been hydrologically closed for several million years, Wingham, et al. 2006 suggests that entire subglacial drainage basins may be flushed periodically and thus an in situ exploration would risk causing a rapid contamination of the system. However, after years of waiting to drill the last few meters, in February 2012 Russian scientists finally reached Lake Vostok (under almost 4 km of ice), and the water seemed to hold an unknown species of bacterium. The announcement was probably premature, as other scientists argue that the bacterium might just have been a contaminant from the drilling fluid (Schiermeier 2013). In the meantime, in the race to find Earth’s chilliest and deepest life forms, US scientists of the WISSARD project used a hot-water jet to make a borehole into subglacial Lake Whillans. NASA 2013 reports that a micro-submarine explored the lake and through multiple tests confirmed the presence of swarms of microbes in water samples retrieved from half a mile of ice.

Ice-Free Areas, Terrestrial and Lacustrine Ecosystems

Fossil records show that until 55 million years ago, the history of life and terrestrial ecosystems in Antarctica was rather similar to that on other southern continents. However, some early Jurassic land vertebrates such as some large dinosaurs belonging to geographically widespread clades have been found only in Antarctica (Smith, et al. 2008). The Neogene climatic history of Antarctica is rather controversial, however. Fielding, et al. 2012 provides evidence that during the early Pliocene (about 4.5 million years ago) the coastal plains of Taylor Valley may have been vegetated by higher land plants. Antarctic soil formation processes in the polar regime of today can be found in Campbell and Claridge 1987 and Ugolini and Bockheim 2008. A coverage of Antarctic terrestrial environments and ecosystems is provided by Beyer and Bölter 2002. Commonly, three biogeographical zones are distinguished in terrestrial Antarctica (Lewis-Smith 1984), and it seems advisable to introduce at least the key differences in climate and biodiversity between continental Antarctica and the other two zones (maritime Antarctic and subantarctic).

Continental Antarctic Zone

During the austral summer, only 2 percent of the continent surface is free of ice and snow, and these cold desert areas are colonized by a small number of cryptogams and minute invertebrates (terrestrial and aquatic). Lyons, et al. 1997 and Priscu 1998 provide a comprehensive account of terrestrial and freshwater environments and ecosystem processes in McMurdo Dry Valleys (in southern Victoria Land, the largest and most studied ice-free area in the continent). Biotic communities in extreme Antarctic environments are described in Vincent 2004; Adams, et al. 2006 reviews available knowledge on biodiversity and distribution of soil community and soil ecosystem processes throughout Victoria Land. Most recent studies on terrestrial biota diversity (e.g., Convey 2011) are overturning the old view of a generally recent colonization and indicate a long-term persistence and regional isolation for most groups of soil organisms. As discussed in Nielsen and Wall 2013, this unique biota now faces the challenges of responding to climatic and environmental changes that are predicted to be greater in the polar ecosystems.

  • Adams, Byron, J., Richard D. Bardgett, Edward Ayres, et al. 2006. Diversity and distribution of Victoria Land biota. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 38:3003–3018.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2006.04.030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive and accessible overview of soil communities in Victoria Land, their functional roles in ecosystem processes, and their distribution across latitudinal and environmental gradients. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Convey, Peter. 2011. Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity in a changing world. Polar Biology 34:1629–1641.

    DOI: 10.1007/s00300-011-1068-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the Antarctic terrestrial environment and its biodiversity. It examines the results of recent biodiversity studies based on molecular and ecophysiological data and the range of environmental changes and human activities that are likely to impact on these unique ecosystems. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Lyons, Berry W., Clive Howard-Williams, and Ian Hawes, eds. 1997. Ecosystems processes in Antarctic ice-free landscapes. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: A. A. Balkema.

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    A collection of papers presented at the 1996 International Workshop on Polar Desert Ecosystems, highlighting the importance of water in the colonization of terrestrial ecosystems and the role of polar deserts as indicators of climate change.

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  • Nielsen, Uffe N., and Diana H. Wall. 2013. The future of soil invertebrate communities in polar regions: Different climate change responses in the Arctic and Antarctic? Ecology Letters 16:409–419.

    DOI: 10.1111/ele.12058Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An accessible and largely nontechnical overview of the current knowledge of climate-change impacts on soil invertebrate communities in the polar regions. Suitable for graduate students and researchers interested in the field. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Priscu, John C., ed. 1998. Ecosystem dynamics in a polar desert: The McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Antarctic Research Series 72. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.

    DOI: 10.1029/AR072Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive overview of researches on streams, lakes, and soil of the largest ice-free area in the Antarctic continent.

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  • Vincent, Warwick F. 2004. Microbial ecosystems of Antarctica. Studies in Polar Research Series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An introductory textbook to the full range of Antarctic environments; designed for graduate and undergraduate students. The physical and chemical features of each habitat are examined, as well as their influence on microbial communities.

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Maritime Antarctic and Subantarctic Zone

The maritime Antarctic comprises the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula and the neighboring islands. Lewis-Smith 1996 provides a readily accessible description of the environment and ecosystems (terrestrial and freshwater). Since the 1950s, the region has experienced one of the largest warming trend in the world, and King and Harangozo 1998 and Vaughan, et al. 2003 discuss possible processes involved in this rapid regional warming. The striking increase in population density and distribution of the two native flowering plants (Grobe, et al. 1997) is one of the most widely cited examples of ecosystem responses to climate change in the Antarctic. On the contrary, the distribution ranges of the ice-obligate emperor and Adélie penguins are shifting southward and contracting, while the ice-intolerant gentoo and chinstrap are expanding their ranges southward (Forcada and Trathan 2009). Greve, et al. 2005 and Convey 2007 provide an overview of biodiversity and major patterns in biogeography of remote islands encircling the continent (the subantarctic zone).

The Southern Ocean

With the opening of the Drake Passage and the establishment of the Polar Front, the Antarctic continent was definitely separated from South America and became an island. The very deep continental shelf (due to the weight of the massive ice sheet that depresses Antarctica) and the unique physico-chemical and biological features of the Southern Ocean are the subject of a number of books and review articles. Since the first volume (Lee 1964), the American Geophysical Union has published several books in the Antarctic Research Series, containing general overviews of our knowledge of the Southern Ocean environment and biota. Jacobs and Weiss 1998 includes twenty chapters on the morphology of continental margins and air-sea and ice-ocean interactions; Arrigo, et al. 2008 estimates the total atmospheric CO2 sink on the Ross Sea. Sabine, et al. 2004 provides a broad and accessible overview of the key role of Southern Ocean in the global carbon cycle.

  • Arrigo, Kevin R., Gert van Dijken, and Matthew Long. 2008. Coastal Southern Ocean: A strong anthropogenic CO2 sink. Geophysical Research Letters 35:L21602.

    DOI: 10.1029/2008GL035624Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizes the role of Antarctic shelf water as a strong sink for atmospheric CO2 and the need to include highly productive waters around the Antarctic continent in future budgets of anthropogenic CO2. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Jacobs, Stanley S., and Ray F. Weiss, eds. 1998. Ocean, ice, and atmosphere: Interactions at the Antarctic continental margin. Antarctic Research Series 75. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.

    DOI: 10.1029/AR075Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of twenty readable chapters on physical oceanography of the Southern Ocean, addressing issues ranging from interactions between air and water masses, to sea ice, icebergs, tides, bottom topography, and deep-water formation.

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  • Lee, Milton O., ed. 1964. Biology of the Antarctic seas. Antarctic Research Series 1. Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.

    DOI: 10.1029/AR001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first of about twenty-five volumes providing an authoritative overview of biological and physico-chemical research in the Southern Ocean. With a more extensive coverage of subjects than in disciplinary journals, the series is suitable for graduate students and a resource for researchers interested in the Antarctic environment.

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  • Sabine, Christopher L., Richard A. Feely, Nicolas Gruber, et al. 2004. The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2. Science 305:367–371.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1097403Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A paper estimating the global anthropogenic CO2 oceanic sink for the period from 1800 to 1994 and discussing the role of the Antarctic Bottom Water. Article available online with registration.

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Physical Oceanography of the Southern Ocean

Rintoul, et al. 2001 and Hogg, et al. 2008 illustrate the water circulation and heat flux in the Southern Ocean, and Foldvik, et al. 2004 delineates the formation of Antarctic Bottom Water, which aerates most of the deep ocean floor. Using available historical hydrographic data from the Southern Ocean, Orsi, et al. 1995 describes features of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, and Alvarez-Solas, et al. 2011 through a coupled climate-ice-sheet model investigates the Southern Ocean oscillations in response to atmospheric CO2 increase. In winter, at its great extent, the pack ice covers a marine surface area larger than that of the continent. Jeffries 1998 provides a collection of chapters on physical processes and variability of Antarctic sea ice, while Kern 2009 gives an estimate of circum-Antarctic wintertime coastal polynyas.

Biological Systems

Over the past twenty to thirty million years, the Antarctic marine environment experienced the transition to the cold-water system of today (–1.87°C) with a replacement of a cosmopolitan temperate fauna by the highly endemic, cold-adapted modern fauna. Pörtner, et al. 2007 provides an integrative view of organism adaptations to cold waters. Knox 2007 gives an accessible and comprehensive account of biology and ecology of Antarctic marine organisms and processes at pack ice edge, where seals, seabirds, and whales aggregate to exploit the Antarctic krill.

Patterns and Processes

DiTullio and Dunbar 2003 provides a collection of chapters addressing the biogeochemistry of the Ross Sea, primary production, the uptake, and the subsurface transport of CO2. Clarke and Arntz 2006 gives an overview of the Ecology of the Antarctic Sea Ice Zone (EASIZ) Programme. Tortell, et al 2012 provides an account of high glacially derived iron concentrations and exceptionally high productivity in coastal polynyas. Brandt, et al. 2007 reviews the general biodiversity patterns of Antarctic benthic organisms, while the Marine Biodiversity Information Network of SCAR (SCAR-MarBIN; Griffiths, et al. 2011) allows the reader to visualize and to download data on the diversity and distribution of Antarctic marine life. Ribic, et al. 2011 analyzes quantitative relationships between water masses and seabird species assemblages in the eastern Bellingshausen Sea.

Marine Ecosystems

Research into Antarctic marine ecosystems started in the mid-19th century, and Hempel 2007 provides a scholarly account of its history. Some international research programs such as BIOMASS (El-Sayed 1994), EVOLANTA (Evolution in Antarctica; Eastman 2005), CAML (Census of Antarctic Marine Life; Gutt, et al. 2010) and EBA (Evolution and Biodiversity in Antarctica; Di Prisco and Verde 2012) provide quite a rich literature on Antarctic marine organisms and ecosystems. Atkinson, et al. 2008 has compiled all available data on the distribution and abundance of the Antarctic krill (the swimming crustacean Euphausia superba), probably the most abundant species of the planet and the keystone species in Antarctic marine ecosystems. Antarctic krill provide an important food source to whales, seals, squid, fish, and marine birds. All penguin species are native to the Southern Hemisphere; however, actually only a few species live in Antarctica, and the review in Lynch, et al. 2012 provides quantitative data on recent regional population changes in penguin populations on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Human Impacts, Conservation, and Management

The economic exploitation of Antarctic marine resources began long before the scientific research. Aronson, et al. 2011 provides an accessible account of the impact of historical whaling and sealing, and Clarke and Harris 2003 discusses the major threats for Arctic and Antarctic marine ecosystems. The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Resources (CCAMLR) came into force in 1982, but Kock, et al. 2007 notes small recovery of the fish stocks exploited before the creation of CCAMLR and examines the main problems undermining the credibility of the Convention. Anthropogenic activities in Antarctica have increased since the International Geophysical Year in 1957 through 1958, and Tin, et al. 2009 provides a comprehensive and accessible account of cumulative impacts of logistic, scientific, and tourist activities. Local chemical contamination in abandoned waste disposal sites (Stark, et al. 2006) represents a further threat for the conservation of the Antarctic environment, and Bargagli 2008 notes that the global warming, population growth, and industrial development in the Southern Hemisphere will most likely increase the impact of anthropogenic contaminants in Antarctica. Bergstrom, et al. 2006 includes chapters on the effects of climate change on Antarctic ecosystems and the impact of invasive species, accidentally or deliberately introduced by humans. Convey, et al. 2012 examines possible strategies for the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty to reduce future risks for Antarctic biodiversity.

  • Aronson, Richard B., Swen Thatje, James B. McClintock, and Kevin A. Hughes. 2011. Anthropogenic impacts on marine ecosystems in Antarctica. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1223:82–107.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05926.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the effects of overharvesting, pollution, the introduction of alien species, and global climate change on Antarctic marine ecosystems. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Bargagli, Roberto. 2008. Environmental contamination in Antarctic ecosystems. Science of the Total Environment 400:212–226.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.06.062Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A thorough and comprehensive overview of the topic. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Bergstrom, Dana M., Pete Convey, and Ad H. L. Huiskes, eds. 2006. Trends in Antarctic terrestrial and limnetic ecosystems. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/1-4020-5277-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Representative textbook for graduate students that introduces them to the biogeography and biodiversity of Antarctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, with chapters dealing with the ecosystems’ possible responses to climate change and biological invasions.

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  • Clarke, Andrew W., and Colin M. Harris. 2003. Polar marine ecosystems: Major threats and future changes. Environmental Conservation 30:1–25.

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    A thorough overview (albeit from a decade ago) of the pressures on Antarctic and Arctic ecosystems that remains a very balanced review. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Convey, Peter, Kevin A. Hughes, and Tina Tin. 2012. Continental governance and environmental management mechanisms under the Antarctic Treaty System: Sufficient for the biodiversity challenges of this century? In Special issue: Circumpolar biodiversity. Edited by Glennis Lewis, Stephen Aitken, Pete Dang, et al. Biodiversity 13:234–248.

    DOI: 10.1080/14888386.2012.703551Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Accessible and largely nontechnical account on how rapid climate change, the expansion of the human footprint, and local environmental damage synergistically act against Antarctic biodiversity. Emphasizes the need of a strategic plan for the Antarctic Treaty System toward management of human activities and environmental conservation. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Kock, Karl-Hermann, Keith Reid, John Croxall, and Stephen Nicol. 2007. Fisheries in the Southern Ocean: An ecosystem approach. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 362:2333–2349.

    DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2006.1954Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    To assist the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Resources (CCAMLR) in meeting its objectives, the authors emphasize the need to assess the effects of krill fishing on the performance of top-level predators and to solve the problem of the by-catch of birds in long-line fisheries and that of IUU (illegal, unreported, unregulated) catches.

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  • Stark, Jonathan S., Ian Snape, and Martin J. Riddle. 2006. Abandoned Antarctic waste disposal sites: Monitoring remediation outcomes and limitations at Casey Station. Ecological Management & Restoration 7:21–31.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-8903.2006.00243.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A formative example of cleanup at an abandoned disposal site, demonstrating the recent change in the management of the Antarctic environment. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Tin, Tina, Zoe L. Fleming, Kevin A. Hughes, et al. 2009. Impacts of local human activities on the Antarctic environment. Antarctic Science 21:3–33.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0954102009001722Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A thorough and comprehensive review, suitable for graduate and undergraduate students, of the wide range of anthropogenic impacts on the Antarctic environment, providing suggestions to the Antarctic Treaty System for the implementation of measures for the protection of the Antarctic environment. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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