Areas of Antarctica devoid of ice, also known as ice-free regions, will most likely increase over the course of next few decades, a new study has suggested.
The increase in ice-free areas will be as much as 25 per cent by the end of the century because of climate change, leading to drastic changes in the continent’s biodiversity, according to a team of Australian researchers. Ice-free zones currently represent less than one per cent of the surface of the white continent and are home to almost all of its fauna and flora.
The study by Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) – the first to investigate the impact of climate change on ice-free areas in Antarctica – predicts that these areas will expand and unite. AAD researcher Aleks Terauds on Thursday said the prediction indicates that by 2100, ice could disappear in a further 17,267 sq km, representing an increase of around 25 per cent on current levels.
“While this might provide new areas for native species to colonise, it could also result in the spread of invasive species and, in the long term, the extinction of less competitive native species,” Terauds said. He added that the thaw would mainly affect the Antarctic peninsula and the east coast of the continent.
Another researcher, Jasmine Lee, noted that unlike earlier studies focusing on the reduction of the ice layer and its potential impact on rising sea levels, the new work focuses on the effects on the continent’s biodiversity.
Lee said ice-free regions currently range from 1 sq km to several thousand km, which are all important breeding areas for seals and seabirds as well as homes of invertebrates, fungi and endemic lichens.
The research, published Thursday in the journal Nature, was presented to the Committee for Environmental Protection during the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting held in May in China.