Article | Published:

Climate change drives expansion of Antarctic ice-free habitat

Nature volume 547, pages 4954 (06 July 2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity occurs almost exclusively in ice-free areas that cover less than 1% of the continent. Climate change will alter the extent and configuration of ice-free areas, yet the distribution and severity of these effects remain unclear. Here we quantify the impact of twenty-first century climate change on ice-free areas under two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate forcing scenarios using temperature-index melt modelling. Under the strongest forcing scenario, ice-free areas could expand by over 17,000 km2 by the end of the century, close to a 25% increase. Most of this expansion will occur in the Antarctic Peninsula, where a threefold increase in ice-free area could drastically change the availability and connectivity of biodiversity habitat. Isolated ice-free areas will coalesce, and while the effects on biodiversity are uncertain, we hypothesize that they could eventually lead to increasing regional-scale biotic homogenization, the extinction of less-competitive species and the spread of invasive species.

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Acknowledgements

This project was supported by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment – Equity Trustees Charitable Foundation, the Australian Antarctic Science Program (projects 4296 and 4297) and the Ecological Society of Australia. I.C. was supported by a CSIRO Julius Career award, and R.A.F. by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship. The contribution of T.J.B. was funded as part of the Polar Science for Planet Earth programme of the British Antarctic Survey with additional support from the SCAR (Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research) AntClim21 (Antarctic Climate in the 21st Century) SRP (Scientific Research Programme). We thank J. Rhodes, S. Robinson, A. Fraser, M. Stafford Smith and A. Richardson for discussions and valuable feedback on this project. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output (listed in Supplementary Table 5 of this paper). For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We thank the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center who are responsible for AMPS and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts who are responsible for the ERA-interim reanalysis data. The Antarctic coastline spatial layer used in the figures was downloaded from the Antarctic Digital Database (ADD Version 7; http://www.add.scar.org).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • Jasmine R. Lee
    • , Richard A. Fuller
    •  & Justine D. Shaw
  2. CSIRO, Dutton Park, Queensland 4102, Australia

    • Jasmine R. Lee
    •  & Iadine Chadès
  3. Australian Antarctic Division, Department of the Environment and Energy, 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia

    • Ben Raymond
    •  & Aleks Terauds
  4. Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 80, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia

    • Ben Raymond
  5. Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 129, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia

    • Ben Raymond
  6. British Antarctic Survey, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

    • Thomas J. Bracegirdle
  7. ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • Iadine Chadès
    •  & Justine D. Shaw

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Contributions

J.R.L. and A.T. conceived the idea. T.J.B. and B.R. generated the climate data. J.R.L. designed and undertook the melt modelling, analysed the data and led the writing with contributions from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jasmine R. Lee.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks N. Golledge, B. van Vuuren and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data

    This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-4 (Ice-free area metric ANOVA tables), Supplementary Table 5 (List of CMIP5 models used in this study), Supplementary Tables 7 and 8 (Melt factor and radiation coefficient values obtained from the literature), and Supplementary Table 9 (Description of ice-free area metrics).

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Table 6

    This table contains degree day factor (DDF) values obtained from the literature.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22996

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