Kelp's record journey exposes Antarctic ecosystems to change | 7/16/2018 | Staff
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Kelp rafts can travel enormous distances over the ocean, bringing a range of life within the weed. Credit: Picture supplied by Dr. Ceridwen Fraser.

When Chilean researcher Dr. Erasmo Macaya from Universidad de Concepción and Centro IDEAL stumbled upon foreign kelp washed up on an Antarctic beach, he knew he had found something significant.

New - Research - Today - Nature - Climate

New research reported today in Nature Climate Change by an international, multidisciplinary team of scientists reveals just how important that finding was. The team discovered the kelp had drifted 20,000km to reach that shore—making it the longest known biological rafting event ever recorded.

To get there, the kelp had to pass through barriers created by polar winds and currents that were, until now, thought to be impenetrable. It means Antarctica is not as isolated from the rest of the world as scientists have thought, which has implications for how Antarctic ecosystems will change with global warming.

Finding - Living - Plants - Animals - Antarctica

"This finding shows us that living plants and animals can reach Antarctica across the ocean, with temperate and sub-Antarctic marine species probably bombarding Antarctic coastlines all the time," said lead author Dr. Crid Fraser from the Australian National University (ANU).

"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."

Author - ANU - ARC - Centre - Excellence

According to a fellow author from ANU and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX), Dr. Adele Morrison, who led the oceanographic analyses, strong westerly winds and surface currents are expected to drive floating objects north and away from Antarctica. But when the disruptive influence of Antarctic storms is factored in, that all changes.

Using cutting-edge modelling techniques, the team began to see how large waves arising during storms could help kelp rafts to reach Antarctica.

Surface - Motion - Storms

"Once we incorporated wave-driven surface motion, which is especially pronounced during storms,...
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