Antarctica has become a laboratory for research on climate change as a result of the impact that global warming is having on some of the continent’s regions and its role in regulating the Earth’s climate.
The effects of climate change are most evident on the Antarctic Peninsula and in the South Shetland Islands, the white continent’s northern tip.
"Over the last century, the Earth’s average temperature has risen about 0.74 degrees C (2.4 degrees F), while in the Antarctic Peninsula in just 60 years it has risen almost 3 degrees C (6.8 F)," Ricardo Jaña, an expert on glaciers and climate change at the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) said.
INACH, a unit of the Chilean foreign ministry, has organized the 51st Chilean Antarctic Expedition that will be completed in March after several months of field research.
A good portion of the scientific work done by the expedition is related to climate change.
Experts are trying to measure the impact of climate change on Antarctica’s glaciers, wildlife and plants to estimate the consequences in coming years.
"If we seek to prevent the consequences of climate change in an ecosystem, one of the best places to do the research is where that change happens fastest, as in this area of Antarctica," Pete Convey, an ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, told Spanish news agency Efe.
Marc Oliva, a Spanish geographer and researcher at the University of Lisbon, is now on Livingstone Island’s Byers Peninsula collecting sediment samples from the region’s lakes.
Oliva’s research aims to map the evolution of climate over the past 6,000 years to find out if there have been similar temperature variations in the distant past or if this is a relatively new phenomenon.
"Some studies suggest that there have not been similar conditions of rising temperatures, while others indicate that temperatures were higher some 1,000 years ago," Oliva told Efe.
Rising temperatures in Antarctica have varying consequences, ranging from glaciers melting to threatening the survival of species crucial for the Antarctic ecosystem.
"In the Antarctic Peninsula, global warming has affected ice floes in the sea and their destruction is raising sea levels," Jaña said.
The process is slow, but in the long term it could have serious consequences since almost 70 percent of the human population lives in coastal regions, Jaña said.
"It is important to measure and predict the speed of this change, and to foresee if it will have short-term and medium-term impacts on the economy and communities living in coastal areas," Jaña said.