Symposium highlights impact of climate change on Antarctica
UOW scientists to share research on the response of ecosystems to environmental threats
A group of University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers will lead a symposium on the impact of climate change and other environmental challenges on Antarctica, and what can be done to preserve the continent’s biodiversity in response to these threats.
The virtual symposium, ‘Ecological extremes in Antarctica, mechanisms of resilience and recovery’, will be held on Wednesday 2 December, following Antarctica Day on 1 December. Antarctica Day commemorates the 1959 adoption of the Antarctic Treaty, and is a celebration of the commitment to Antarctic peace and science by 54 nations.
The symposium will highlight recent changes to biodiversity throughout Antarctica, as well as management strategies for understanding and protecting these unique ecosystems, and will take place during the Ecological Society of Australia’s 60th anniversary conference (30 November to 4 December).
Six UOW researchers – predominantly students and early career researchers (ECRs), and all of them women – will present their work at the symposium. It will also feature research from Monash University, the Australian Antarctic Division, and the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.
Dr Melinda Waterman, a Research Fellow in UOW’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, leads UOW’s ECO Antarctica team, part of the University’s multidisciplinary Global Challenges Program.
She will present a talk on how we can use Antarctic mosses to track climate change over past centuries. Numerous moss species call Antarctica home and Dr Waterman’s research focuses on exploring many ways they can survive and grow in this harsh environment.
“Antarctica is certainly an extreme ecosystem for plants and animals to live,” Dr Waterman said.
“Antarctica has been one of the many places on earth to experience impacts of climate change in recent decades. Although isolated, Antarctica plays a vital role in global ocean circulation, which affects global climate.”
The changes in the westerly jet stream around Antarctica have caused changes in wind speeds, temperature, sea level pressure and precipitation. These, in addition to other out-of-the-ordinary stratospheric conditions at the end of 2019, caused heatwaves across Antarctica in January and February 2020.
Three researchers from the ECO Antarctica project experienced these heatwaves firsthand.
Dr Dana Bergstrom, from the Australian Antarctic Division and a UOW Visiting Fellow, will discuss outcomes of her field work in Antarctica.
Postgraduate student Krystal Randall has conducted fieldwork over the past three summers on Robert Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. Her PhD research develops our understanding of how Antarctic plants feel the climate, and how the climate impacts their health, based on where they are growing.
PhD candidate Alison Haynes will talk about her research looking at how plants are responding to glacial retreat on nearby King George Island. She camped for a month on the island and will present on the connections between urban environments and Antarctica and the importance of understanding colonisation processes of plants in both habitats.
As part of the ECO Antarctica project, Global Challenges Research Officer Dr Diana King and undergraduate student Isabella Todd have been researching the ways in which digital photography can enable fast, effective identification of vegetation species in Antarctica. These methods can be useful for long-term monitoring of ground vegetation in extreme environments, where weather conditions can make fieldwork difficult.
As an extension of this work, ECO Antarctica research assistant Shae Jones has assessed the state of long-term monitoring studies throughout Antarctica and will share her findings at the symposium.
In these times of rapidly changing environmental conditions, it is imperative that we understand how resilient Antarctica’s unique biodiversity is to change, in order to provide essential information for management and policy development.
The UOW Global Challenges’ project ECO Antarctica is supporting the researchers to attend the symposium on 2 December.
The Ecological Society of Australia conference, ‘Understanding ecological extremes: Mechanisms of resilience and recovery”, is open to the public and runs from 30 November to 4 December 2020. To register visit https://www.esa2020.org.au/
Scenes from Antarctica shot by Dr Melinda Waterman during research trips to the continent.