Climate Crisis in Antarctica

Antarctica is at a crossroads. The global climate crisis is interrupting natural processes across large parts of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

As we stand on the brink of catastrophic change, the actions we take over the next decade will determine the course of human civilization for generations.

Emperor penguin underwater
Emperor penguin
Krill Swarm. Image credit: Jamie Hall
close up of Adelie penguin
Adélie penguin
Deville glacier calving in Andvord Bay near Neko Harbor
Deville glacier calving in Andvord Bay near Neko Harbor

What’s happening?

CLIMATE CRISIS IN ANTARCTICA

The polar regions are the first to be affected by the heating climate, and dramatic changes are already underway in Antarctica.

Floating ice shelves are melting rapidly, raising concerns about sudden, uncontrollable sea level rise. The Antarctic Peninsula, a popular tourist destination, is one of the most rapidly warming places in the Southern Hemisphere, with average summer temperatures increasing by over 5°F (3°C) between 1970 and 2020. 

Since the 1970s the Southern Ocean has absorbed as much as 75 percent of the excess heat created by humans, and 40 percent of the carbon dioxide. Warmer, more acidic oceans are already impacting Antarctic ecosystems, with many penguin colonies shrinking, and in some cases disappearing altogether.

CLIMATE CRISIS IN ANTARCTICA

What are the impacts?

Antarctica and its ice, ocean and ecosystems play a critical role in regulating the global climate. Together they help slow global heating, drive important ocean currents, and contribute to the drawdown of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The climate crisis is disrupting these delicate systems. They are changing rapidly, with effects that will be felt around the world.

Antarctic mountain and ocean

Humans

Human activity is causing changes in our climate, and the natural systems that support life as we know it.

Gentoo penguins

Penguins

Between 1980 and 2020, several penguin colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula vanished.

Tabular icebergs and plates of sea ice.

Ice

Antarctic ice is changing. Collapsing ice shelves could lead to several feet of sea level rise by 2100.

stormy southern ocean

Ocean

The Southern Ocean is slowing climate change by absorbing excess heat. But it comes at a cost.

Emperor penguin and chick
Emperor penguin with chick
Adelie feeding chick
Adélie penguin with chicks
Antarctic hairgrass
Antarctic hairgrass
Antarctic Pearlwort.
Antarctic Pearlwort. Photo credit: Liam Quinn

Why it’s important

CLIMATE CRISIS IN ANTARCTICA

What happens in Antarctica as the planet heats will affect all of humanity. A warming Southern Ocean threatens to slow global ocean circulation and drive extreme weather events across the globe. Find out more.

Melting Antarctic ice has the potential to raise global sea levels by hundreds of feet. Even a few feet of sea level rise would be catastrophic for millions of people, destroying critical sources of freshwater and farmland with saltwater, and displacing millions of people. Find out more.

Lamaire channel sunset

CLIMATE CRISIS IN ANTARCTICA

What ASOC is doing

ASOC advocates for policies that will build Antarctic ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change. We work to build awareness of the impacts of climate change on the Antarctic environment through public advocacy, reporting to Antarctic governance meetings, and conducting outreach to governments.

CLIMATE CRISIS

How we work

As the only environmental NGO invited to observe Antarctic Treaty meetings, we represent the Antarctic conservation community at the highest levels of Antarctic governance. We work within the system to address the climate crisis in the following ways.

Antarctica waterfall
Adaptation

We support adaptive management systems which incorporate uncertainty and respond to new information.

Read more

CCAMLR Opening 2018
Advocacy

ASOC advocates for science-based policies within the existing Antarctic governance framework.

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Gentoo underwater
Protection

ASOC strongly supports the establishment of a representative network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) across the Southern Ocean.

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NASA Ice core
Science

ASOC acknowledges and supports the world-class climate research conducted by Antarctic researchers.

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Implementation

ASOC supports the full and effective implementation of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

Read more

Video: courtesy of Richard Sidey

What you can do

climate crisis

It’s not too late to act. The greatest threats to Antarctica today come from right here – where we live. As Antarctica nears irreversible tipping points, we must take urgent action now to secure a safe climate future. 

Weddell seal pup
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