Article | Published:

More losers than winners in a century of future Southern Ocean seafloor warming

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 749754 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

The waters of the Southern Ocean are projected to warm over the coming century, with potential adverse consequences for native cold-adapted organisms. Warming waters have caused temperate marine species to shift their ranges poleward. The seafloor animals of the Southern Ocean shelf have long been isolated by the deep ocean surrounding Antarctica and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with little scope for southward migration. How these largely endemic species will react to future projected warming is unknown. By considering 963 invertebrate species, we show that within the current century, warming temperatures alone are unlikely to result in wholesale extinction or invasion affecting Antarctic seafloor life. However, 79% of Antarctica’s endemic species do face a significant reduction in suitable temperature habitat (an average 12% reduction). Our findings highlight the species and regions most likely to respond significantly (negatively and positively) to warming and have important implications for future management of the region.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank A. Post, C. Waller, K. Linse, S. Thorpe, J. Turner and D. Vaughan for their useful advice. We thank all of the contributors of data and expert knowledge to the SCAR Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean. We thank A. Van de Putte for helping to prepare the species occurrence data. 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. This paper contributes to the SCAR ‘State of the Antarctic Ecosystem’ (AntEco) and ‘Antarctic Climate Change in the 21st Century’ (AntClim21) programmes. A.J.S.M. was supported by NERC grant NE/N018095/1 (Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports; ORCHESTRA).

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Affiliations

  1. British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

    • Huw J. Griffiths
    • , Andrew J. S. Meijers
    •  & Thomas J. Bracegirdle

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Contributions

H.J.G. analysed the data; A.J.S.M. prepared the oceanographic data; all authors wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Huw J. Griffiths.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3377