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Antarctic climate cooling and terrestrial ecosystem response


The average air temperature at the Earth's surface has increased by 0.06 °C per decade during the 20th century1, and by 0.19 °C per decade from 1979 to 19982. Climate models generally predict amplified warming in polar regions3,4, as observed in Antarctica's peninsula region over the second half of the 20th century5,6,7,8,9. Although previous reports suggest slight recent continental warming9,10, our spatial analysis of Antarctic meteorological data demonstrates a net cooling on the Antarctic continent between 1966 and 2000, particularly during summer and autumn. The McMurdo Dry Valleys have cooled by 0.7 °C per decade between 1986 and 2000, with similar pronounced seasonal trends. Summer cooling is particularly important to Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems that are poised at the interface of ice and water. Here we present data from the dry valleys representing evidence of rapid terrestrial ecosystem response to climate cooling in Antarctica, including decreased primary productivity of lakes (6–9% per year) and declining numbers of soil invertebrates (more than 10% per year). Continental Antarctic cooling, especially the seasonality of cooling, poses challenges to models of climate and ecosystem change.

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Figure 1: Meteorological and ecosystem changes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, 1986–2000.
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We thank the personnel associated with the McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research site who contributed to the collection of data. T. Chinn provided the three earliest data points on the lake level plot. W. Chapman assisted with the compilation of the continental figures. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs, the United States Geological Survey, and the NASA Exobiology Program.

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Correspondence to Peter T. Doran.

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Doran, P., Priscu, J., Lyons, W. et al. Antarctic climate cooling and terrestrial ecosystem response. Nature 415, 517–520 (2002).

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