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.