An undergraduate thesis from the IDEAL Center, based on mathematical models, suggests new evidence related to the consequences of climate change.

Credit: Andrea Navarro

Lorenzo Palma, IDEAL Center. The Antarctic Polar Front (APF) is an ocean area where warm and cold waters converge but without mixing, retaining different chemical, physical and biological characteristics and thus forming a natural barrier between 80 and 100 meters from the surface of the Southern Ocean. This process is similar to an occurrence in the atmosphere. For example, on our planet there are air masses with different characteristics that do not mix, but retain differing pressure, temperature, and humidity.

At the beginning of his research, the marine biology student Francisco Olguín thought that due to the increase in intensity of the westerly winds due to climate change, the APF would move to the north, but he revealed the opposite with his undergraduate thesis conducted under the Research Center: Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh).

Research conducted by Olguín focused on determining how the Polar Front may change in the face of global warming, in the area between the Bellingshausen Sea and the Scotia Sea. The former is located towards the west of the Antarctic Peninsula and the latter near the continent, covering 900,000 square kilometers. For this effort, Olguín used two of the four scenarios that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) uses to predict the future: 4.5 and 8.5. These are “average” and “catastrophic” predictions, respectively.

Credit: Andrea Navarro

The principal result of the study indicates that the APF will move to the south, as a result of both scenarios, shifting the mass of essential nutrients in the primary food chain production in the same direction.

“If the APF moves into the southern zone, it is also possible to conceive that the feeding areas of many marine species will also shift,” stressed Olguín, who worked in the development of programs and the use of a wide range of databases to evaluate current conditions of the APF as well as the analysis of 17 models.

“The results (of this research) are very relevant because they could explain the relationship that would exist in a migration towards high latitudes involving ocean currents and the Antarctic polar front in other areas,” emphasized Dr. José Garcés, researcher at the IDEAL Center, faculty for the Institute of Marine and Limnological Sciences at UACh, and sponsor for this thesis. The displacement of the APF to the south, “could tell us that the factors that currently explain it may differ in the future,” concludes Dr. Garcés.