King crabs invade Antarctica: no joke

Grist notes a Dec. 12 report on Nature:

Cold temperatures have kept crabs out of Antarctic seas for 30 million years. But warm water from the ocean depths is now intruding onto the continental shelf, and seems to be changing the delicate ecological balance. An analysis by [marine ecologist Craig] Smith and his colleagues suggests that 1.5 million crabs already inhabit Palmer Deep, [a] sea-floor valley… And native organisms have few ways of defending themselves. “There are no hard-shell-crushing predators in Antarctica,” says Smith. “When these come in they’re going to wipe out a whole bunch of endemic species.”

Grist adds wittily, “Scientists are asking for volunteers to help stem the invasion; the research team will provide melted butter and nutcrackers.” Ha ha. But it isn’t really all that funny. The grimmest part of the story, though, may be this quote from Florida Institute of Technology marine biologist Richard Aronson:

“Every time we make a prediction of what we think will happen in the next 50 years, then poof, 10 years later, there it is,” he says. “So I think this is going to be happening more rapidly than, as conservative scientists, we’re used to predicting.”

Antarctica’s glaciers have been shedding ice at an unprecedented rate in recent years, and a melt zone has also ominously emerged in the continent’s interior. An imminent “tipping point” in the melting of the continent’s ice sheet has been postulated.

  1. Irreversible collapse of Antarctic glaciers has begun

    What's sick is that this news of impending apocalypse rates no greater coverage than the latest stunts from Justin Beiber—and probably gets fewer hits. From the LA Times, May 12:

    A slow-motion and irreversible collapse of a massive cluster of glaciers in Antarctica has begun, and could cause sea levels to rise across the planet by another 4 feet within 200 years, scientists concluded in two studies released Monday.

    Researchers had previously estimated that the cluster in the Amundsen Sea region of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would last for thousands of years despite global climate change. But the new studies found that the loss is underway now as warming ocean water melts away the base of the ice shelf, and is occurring far more rapidly than scientists expected.

    The warming water is tied to several environmental phenomena, including a warming of the planet driven by emissions from human activity and depleted ozone that has changed wind patterns in the area, the studies found.

    "There is no red button to stop this," said Eric Rignot, a UC Irvine professor of Earth system science and the lead author of one of the studies, conducted with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and scheduled for publication in a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

    The six glaciers have passed "the point of no return," Rignot said, which means that total collapse — the melted retreat of the glaciers — cannot be prevented. "The only question is how fast it's going to go."