The Changing Climate of the Antarctic Peninsula

The Changing Climate of the Antarctic Peninsula

Antarctica plays a critical role in maintaining Earth’s climate. Its immense white surface of ice cools the planet by reflecting light and heat back into space. The continent’s Southern Ocean also produces enormous expanses of sea ice. Its cold surface water sinks and flows along the bottom of the world’s oceans, creating a global oceanic conveyor belt that regulates temperature.

The slender arm of the Antarctic Peninsula is the most vulnerable to climate change. Its ice shelves began breaking apart in 2002, when the Rhode Island-sized Larsen B ice shelf split off from the continent. The Wilkins ice shelf (roughly the size of Vermont) collapsed into the ocean in 2010.

According to the British Antarctic Survey, the west coast of the peninsula has warmed by nearly 5°F (3° C) since the 1950s. The melting of the peninsula’s glaciers has already contributed to the planet’s sea-level rise.


Gary Braasch, Krill, January 2000

A nutrient-rich ecosystem in peril:

Krill, tiny shrimp-like animals that feed on algae under the sea ice ledges, support the Southern Ocean’s entire food chain, including penguins, seals, whales, and birds. Once abundant, krill have been steadily declining off the west Antarctic Peninsula as the waters warm. Adélie penguins have also decreased in population.

Top banner image: Alexis Rockman (American, b. 1962), Adelies, 2008, oil on wood, 68 x 80 in. (172.72 x 203.2 cm), private collection