Lloyd Peck: Antarctic species could be lost in the coming years

From the marine biologist's Royal Institution Christmas lecture, broadcast on Channel 4

Share

Antarctica: how can life exist in such a cold, sterile desert? This frozen frontier is home to some of the toughest, most well-adapted creatures on the planet. We can learn a lot from unlocking these secrets of extreme survival.

Antarctica: how can life exist in such a cold, sterile desert? This frozen frontier is home to some of the toughest, most well-adapted creatures on the planet. We can learn a lot from unlocking these secrets of extreme survival.

For most animals outside Antarctica, cold spells trouble; enzymes don't work effectively, nerves slow down and ice crystals can grow, bursting through the walls of cells like shards of glass. But life in Antarctica is abundant. Most creatures here in the sea are cold blooded - their body temperature is equal to their environment.

But for the first time in millions of years conditions in parts of Antarctica are changing fast. The Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than anywhere on the globe. How will life cope with this sudden change? Sea temperatures around Antarctica have been cold for at least 10 million years. The species there have evolved in these chilly conditions. There are about 5,000 cold-blooded species that live in the Antarctic Ocean. Even a small rise in sea temperature could have a catastrophic effect on the marine ecosystem.

There are only a few things you can do if the environment deteriorates and life gets tough. You can cope with what you have. And we have seen that Antarctic marine animals do not cope well with rising temperature. You can evolve to the new conditions. Antarctic marine animals grow slowly and live a long, long time, so their ability to evolve new characters is very limited. You can migrate to better conditions. But Antarctica is almost round in outline, and sits over the pole. There is nowhere for marine animals to migrate to. This could have serious implications for the future of the Southern Ocean. We could lose large numbers of populations - even whole species - in the coming years.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Junior/Trainee Buiness Intelligence (BI) Consultant

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior/Trainee Business Intelligen...

Teaching Assistants needed in Flintshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Flintshi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside  

Autumn’s subtle charm is greatly enhanced by this Indian summer

Michael McCarthy
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits