Decline in Plankton Diversity with Reduced Sea Ice Extent in West Antarctica

Nature Communications, August 16

Rising temperatures and the loss of sea ice threatens the future of carbon-consuming plankton in Antarctic coastal waters. Over the past 70 years, the western Antarctic Peninsula has exhibited some of the most significant changes in the Southern Ocean, with air temperatures increasing up to 7°C and sea ice decreasing faster than anywhere else on the continent. As ocean temperatures rise, the diversity of plankton species in Antarctica’s coastal regions sharply declines, and their communities become destabilized. Plankton play a fundamental role in Antarctic ecosystems. These microscopic organisms absorb gases such as carbon dioxide, helping make the Southern Ocean is one of the largest carbon sinks on the planet. They also serve as the base of the Antarctic marine food web, providing pivotal support for many keystone Antarctic species. Rapid warming will continue to affect sea ice in Antarctica, reducing the ability of plankton communities to effectively remove carbon from our atmosphere.