An international agreement is now in place to give special protection to the area of ocean left exposed when one of the largest icebergs ever recorded broke free from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July this year. The iceberg – known as A68 – is starting to move north, and it will leave behind a 5,818 km2 area of seabed exposed to open marine conditions. Much of this area may have been ice-covered since the last inter-glacial period around 120,000 years ago, providing a unique opportunity for scientists to study how marine life responds to this dramatic change.
Previous news about possible life forms under the ice of Antarctica had been published over the last few years. A new study by scientists from the Australian National University now found further evidence for this hypothesis. Previously undiscovered animals and plants may live in warm caves under Antarctica's glaciers. Forensic analysis of soil samples from caves on Ross Island revealed traces of DNA from algae, mosses and small animals.
The industrialized whaling era had a significant impact on whale populations around Antarctica. Almost all species of baleen whales had been severely decimated and by the end of the 1960s, a moratorium on whaling was decided to give populations time to recover. This moratorium heralded the protection of whales in the Southern Oceans. Today, the populations slowly recover, albeit not as quickly as hoped for, according to a new model presented by Australian scientists.
In the past, the Antarctic was hit by meteorites and meteors several times. Traces are found on Antarctica on several occasions rather easily. However, the subantarctic islands and surrounding oceans are harder to screen due to the depth of the basins. An international team of scientists now has found a large crater near the Falkland Island archipelago. They estimate the age of approximately 250 million years and consider it one of the largest craters in the world.
The continuous daylight conditions of summer in Antarctica are known to interfere with physiological functions such as sleep patterns and the release of melatonin, a hormone associated with circadian rhythms and sleep. Now, a study offers new information about why people in this region sleep poorly, and suggests that social behavior may also play a role. The study, published ahead of print in the Journal of Applied Physiology, was chosen as an APSselect article for March.
Finding fossils needs a lot of patience, knowledge of geology and the history of the environment... or simply a lot of luck. A fossil collector found in New Zealand's Waipara River area in the region of Canterbury by chance the remains of a huge ancient penguin. After thorough examination by scientists from New Zealand and Germany, the age of the fossilized bones was estimated around 61 million years old. According to the researchers, the oldest penguin now known resembled the modern king penguins of today but was more than 150 centimeters talll. This makes it more than 30 centimeters bigger than emperor penguins, the largest modern penguin. The results by the scientists mean that penguin evolution started much earlier than previously estimated. It is probable that the divergencce of penguins from their relatives happened during the age of the dinosaurs.
Increased meltwater influx from the glaciers of Antarctica are considered one of the most pressing consequences of climate change on the Southern Ocean. However, the fate meltwater which flows out from underneath the glaciers was unknown until now. An international team of researchers has discovered why this fresh water is often detected below the surface of the ocean, rather than rising to the top above denser seawater. The team found that the Earth’s rotation influences the way meltwater behaves – keeping it at depths of several hundred metres.
Scientists plan to fly 10,000 live krill from Antarctica out to Australia as part of a ground-breaking study to monitor the effects of climate change. Working with the Australian Antarctic Division, the researchers are the first to attempt such a project in the world. The Royal Australian Air Force will transport the valuable freight in special containers from Wilkins Aerodrome, near Australia’s Casey research station, to Hobart in Tasmania.
Antarctica still holds many mysteries and secrets for scientists to discover. One of the latest branches of Antarctic science is the search for microbial lifeforms under the massive ice sheet. In the latest quest, a group of US scientists will head down to the seventh continent and search for ancient bacteria in one of the driest and apparently most lifeless areas of the world. The researchers hope to find clues to understand how life can endure extreme cold and dry conditions, not only on Earth but also on other planets.