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Climate change in Antarctica

by Donna Reynolds

Antarctica – our southernmost continent and the last great white wilderness on Earth. I was lucky enough to see this incredible place for myself during an Expedition in March this year. While there, we saw rich and abundant ecosystems, teaming with life, but we also saw threats to them.

During the first few days on the Antarctic Peninsula, it rained. Well into Autumn, and when the sea ice was already beginning to form, it should not have been warm enough to experience as much rain as we did. Antarctica is the coldest continent on Earth – the average temperature is 17°C colder than the Arctic, and the lowest temperature recorded was -89°C. However, the highest temperature in March was recorded while we were there, possibly setting a new world record. At -11°C on the continent, it was 40°C warmer than the usual average. This was the clearest sign of climate change and global warming, right there in front of us.

70% of the Earth’s fresh water and 90% of the world’s ice lies solely in Antarctica. The ice was visibly melting before our very eyes. I felt the rain, I watched a piece of a centuries-old glacier break off and a crash into the water, I heard stories of penguin families who were unable to keep their chicks alive because the changing climate meant that their homes were suddenly too far from the water and the life-giving food within it. I have seen why this pristine continent must be protected from all forms of human impact, both direct and indirect, and I understand the urgency more than ever to create awareness about the importance of protecting this magical place and driving the necessary action to do so.

The 13th (climate action), 14th (life below water) and 15th (life on land) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can all be addressed by both proactively and reactively addressing the issue of climate change, particularly climate change in Antarctica, where it is most visible. While this white continent might seem distant and insignificant to us, in fact, the opposite is true. If Antarctica continues to melt as a result of global warming, the resulting rise in sea levels will be catastrophic worldwide. This is already having a particularly noticeable effect on coastal areas and small islands, where the rise in sea level and climate change is threatening coastal communities, their habitat and livelihood.

Likewise, the African islands are among the nations severely affected by climate change. As the sea level rises, the island nations are at an increased risk of losing coastal arable land to degradation and salinification. An increasing abstraction rate and a slow recharge caused by the change in the intensity and frequency of precipitation, a climate change effect, lead to a drop in the groundwater level over time. This trend, along with the rise of the sea level due to the temperature increase, forces seawater's intrusion into the groundwater of the islands, contaminating the freshwater.

The best time to act was probably 100 years ago. The next best time to act is now.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” – Charles Darwin


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