Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Changes in the Antarctic sea ice ecosystem: potential effects on krill and baleen whales

Stephen Nicol A B E , Anthony Worby B C and Rebecca Leaper D

A Southern Ocean Ecosystems, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia.

B Australia and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Private Bag 80, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia.

C Ice Oceans Atmosphere and Climate, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, Channel Highway, Kingston Tasmania 7050, Australia.

D Australian Centre for Applied Marine Mammal Science, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, Australian Antarctic Division Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 59(5) 361-382
Submitted: 7 September 2007  Accepted: 5 April 2008   Published: 6 June 2008


The annual formation and loss of some 15 million km2 of sea ice around the Antarctic significantly affects global ocean circulation, particularly through the formation of dense bottom water. As one of the most profound seasonal changes on Earth, the formation and decay of sea ice plays a major role in climate processes. It is also likely to be impacted by climate change, potentially changing the productivity of the Antarctic region. The sea ice zone supports much wildlife, particularly large vertebrates such as seals, seabirds and whales, some exploited to near extinction. Cetacean species in the Southern Ocean will be directly impacted by changes in sea ice patterns as well as indirectly by changes in their principal prey, Antarctic krill, affected by modifications to their own environment through climate change. Understanding how climate change will affect species at all trophic levels in the Southern Ocean requires new approaches and integrated research programs. This review focuses on the current state of knowledge of the sea ice zone and examines the potential for climatic and ecological change in the region. In the context of changes already documented for seals and seabirds, it discusses potential effects on the most conspicuous vertebrate of the region, baleen whales.

Additional keywords: climate change, exploitation.


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