The waters around Antarctica, usually combined as the Southern Ocean, have made many headlines lately. Pollution, fisheries, climate change are a few of the pressures that this vast water body is facing. Mid-April, international scientists had gathered in Hobart, Tasmania, to discuss the challenges and possible solutions in a first attempt to combine their knowledge.

All water masses around Antarctica and bordered by the Antarctic convergence are combined to form the Southern Ocean. It is home of penguins, whales, krill, and icebergs. Credit Michael Wenger
All water masses around Antarctica and bordered by the Antarctic convergence are combined to form the Southern Ocean. It is home of penguins, whales, krill, and icebergs. Credit Michael Wenger

International scientists had been gathering in Hobart in Mid-April to develop the first marine ecosystem assessment for the Southern Ocean. Hosted by the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, the meeting brought together scientists, fishers, conservationists, policy-makers and managers to build a picture of the current state of Southern Ocean. Conference Convenor, Dr Andrew Constable, said a key goal is to improve understanding of the current state of Southern Ocean ecosystems, and the potential future impacts under climate change. “The Southern Ocean is a vast and abundant ecosystem, where swarms of krill sustain an enormous diversity of species including fish, seals, penguins and whales,” Dr Constable said. “This week’s conference is the first time that scientists studying all corners of the Southern Ocean have come together to try to develop a comprehensive picture of its diverse marine life. Developing an assessment of the status and trends in Southern Ocean ecosystems is an ambitious task, but it is essential for sound management of marine resources into the future.”

The Antarctic food web relies heavily on Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a small crustacean. Huge amounts of this krill are consumed every season by whales, penguins, seals, and fish. Yet, fisheries and warming waters jeopardize this food basis. Credit: Brett Wilks
The Antarctic food web relies heavily on Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a small crustacean. Huge amounts of this krill are consumed every season by whales, penguins, seals, and fish. Yet, fisheries and warming waters jeopardize this food basis. Credit: Brett Wilks

Research shows the Southern Ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic under climate change, which could have potentially major and sudden impacts on keystone species such as krill. “Robust management decisions require scientists to develop a confident understanding of which species are out there, in what kind of numbers, and how they are changing.” The President of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), Professor Steven Chown, said the conference was an important step. “SCAR has long facilitated research in the Southern Ocean to advise policymakers on the status and trends of its species and ecosystems. Now, as we see evidence of changes and forecasts for an increase in impacts, this role has taken on renewed urgency. The Southern Ocean and Antarctica comprise about a third of the world's surface. They are essential for human and planetary health. SCAR's research facilitation and policy advice are helping to secure the long-term ecosystem services provided by these regions. SCAR recognises the importance of the work being done at this meeting. Our members are pleased to support this conference both directly and through our support for the Southern Ocean Observing System.”

Scientists rely on icebreakers such as Aurora australis to gather data in the vastness of the Southern Ocean. Yet, only a small percentage of the Antarctic waters are scientifically explored and the data is still processed. Credit: Doug Thost
Scientists rely on icebreakers such as Aurora australis to gather data in the vastness of the Southern Ocean. Yet, only a small percentage of the Antarctic waters are scientifically explored and the data is still processed. Credit: Doug Thost

Source: Australian Antarctic Division