Argentine scientists have revealed that rising temperatures and diminished salinity have altered phytoplankton in the Antarctic, according to a study carried out at the Carlini base, the Universidad Nacional de La Matanza reports.
"One week of increased temperatures already alters the composition of these communities," Conicet (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científica y Técnicas) National Research Council biologist Julieta Antoni explains.
"This also describes how heat waves will be more frequent over the next few years," says Irene Schloss, a researcher at the Instituto Antártico Argentino.
According to experiment observations, "there was a typically sub-Antarctic species of phytoplankton which grew more than the rest, a species which had not been registered in the Antarctic before."
Marine phytoplankton is made up of micro-organisms which produce 50-60 percent of the planet’s oxygen.
The study drew samples from Potter Cove in the north of the peninsula, subject to rising temperatures and diminished salinity.
The research also found that "a cosmopolitan species of algae grew there," said Antoni.
"In the Antarctic, due to the thaw associated with rising temperatures, a greater quantity of fresh water is entering the bays with salt water. So what we’re studying is what happens to the phytoplankton in those conditions of high temperatures and low salinity," she indicated.
"With diminished salinity species of tiny algae belonging to nanoplankton groups proliferate," said the biologist.
These alterations are estimated to impact "one of the main consumers of this phytoplankton, which is krill, which in turn is consumed by a great variety of animals in the Antarctic eco-system."
Schloss said that there have been experiments since 2010 to measure the impact of climate change on phytoplankton – in 2011, 2014 and 2016 with published conclusions and another last year whose report is still being processed.
"The values simulated in these experiments were those forecast to be reached in the next 50 years but unfortunately last season had water temperatures already at such high levels, which is not good news for the environment," she underlined.
Last February the extreme north of the Antarctic peninsula registered a record temperature of 18.3 degrees Celsius topping the 17.5 degrees of March, 2015.