IN PICTURES: Antarctic marine life before the iceberg

Two days ago an iceberg twice the size of Luxembourg broke off the Larsen C ice shelf. Anton Van de Putte and his colleagues turn the spotlight on the stunning marine life that is bound to be affected by this event.

The Larsen C ice shelf has released a giant iceberg. This means that, for the first time in thousands of years, the ecosystem that evolved in total darkness underneath the ice shelf will now be exposed to sunlight.

"This dramatic event comes with challenges and opportunities for Antarctic marine life," says Anton Van de Putte (KU Leuven/RBINS/SCAR). "The entire food chain of the region will change due to algae supporting a whole ecosystem that could not have survived in the dark, including krill and whales. There are bound to be winners and losers among the organisms that already live there."

These events can also trigger major changes in ocean circulation and sea ice conditions. "We should seize this unique opportunity to learn about the factors shaping the ecosystems in the seas around Antarctica. Some of them could eventually lead to massive mortality in top predators such as seabirds."

Marine areas that become exposed when an Antarctic ice shelf retreats are reserved for scientific research for a period of up to ten years. Anton Van de Putte and his colleagues from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) are now planning to study this unique ecological situation.

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