The Arctic to most of us seems so far away we often think of it as another planet and forget the implications from man-made climate change and plastic pollution but that belief is starting to change. New research published in Nature Climate Change now shows that due to climate change, oceanic currents will change and allow for drifting plastics and invasive species to make their way to Antartica, completely changing the environment.
The research started when a bundle of kelp was discovered on an Antarctic beach last year. DNA samples of the kelp indicated one specimen had come from the Kerguelen Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean and another from South Georgia. Researchers then looked at ocean circulation models, and determined that the kelp would have passed through barriers like polar winds and currents once believe to be impenetrable in order to have reached Antarctica.
This discover is the furthest traveled “biological rafting event” ever recorded and the implications are extremely concerning. The theory is that if kelp can make its way to Antarctica, then so can plastic and other species that are not native to the area.
“This study shows that Antarctica is not as biologically isolated as previously thought – by demonstrating that rafting biological material can cross Southern Ocean barriers to reach the shores of Antarctica,” explained study author Jon Waters in a statement.
“The results suggest that Antarctica won’t be immune from drifting plastics that are increasingly a problem in the world’s marine ecosystems,” said Waters.
Parts of Antarctica are among the fastest warming places on Earth and we could soon be seeing a dramatically changing environment there. If plants and animals can make it across, colonies will have the opportunity to establish themselves on the continent.
“We always thought Antarctic plants and animals were distinct because they were isolated, but this research suggests these differences are almost entirely due to environmental extremes, not isolation,” said co-author Ceridwen Fraser.