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Effects of Climate Change in the Antarctic Peninsula

Marine benthic communities are comprised of a wide range of organisms. Animals from very tiny polychaete worms to larger shrimps, sea-stars, corals, etc, live in the seafloor and represent an important food resource for larger fish and invertebrate species. Also, they represent one of the largest reservoirs of the marine biodiversity (~70% of all marine species live associated with the seafloor). Therefore, it becomes essential to study and preserve those benthic ecosystems.

Inside the FOODBANC's project  I am helping prof. Craig Smith from University of Hawaii, and other scientists to study how climate change, this currently highly debated science topic, will affect benthic marine ecosystems off the Western Antarctic Peninsula. We have unquestionable evidences that global warming is already affecting how the oceans function and also that many marine species are or will be severely affected. However, we still need to investigate how the ocean warming and the melting of sea ice in the Antarctic ocean will affect seafloor communities, biodiversity, and biogeochemical cycles that are essential for ecosystem function and self-sustainability.

During three FOODBANCS-II cruises aboard the USAP (United Sates Antarctic Program) research vessels I was privileged as being testimony on how Antarctic ecosystems are still relatively pristine. I never felt so overwhelmed by nature's dimension of quietness and immensity like I did while in Antarctica. Although our research was mostly conducted from aboard the ships we had extremely rare opportunities to step on Antarctic soil at several different localities (see my Google map - right of this page) and have a taste on the wild and pristine landscapes such as immense fjords, iceberg covered bays, arid montanious coastlines, and of course a taste of the incredible wild life. I hope I am able to transmit some of those insights in some of the pictures in this sideshow. Enjoy!

Antarctica - Austral winter 2008

Western Antarctic Peninsula

 Benthic Biodiversity of Submarine Canyons in the Main and NWHI Islands

The Submarine Canyon and Scavenger Communities in the Main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands project was supported through the NOAA-EXPLORE program and coordinated by Dr. Craig Randall Smith, professor of the Biological Oceanography Division of SOEST, University of Hawaii. The project had 36 submersible dives funded, which allowed us to perform high-resolution video/photo transects for sensuing benthic megafauna, to collect push-core samples to describe the macro-infauna, and also to perform baited-trap and station experiments to describe the community of scavengers.

The main goal of the project was to investigate the role of submarine canyons in transporting particulate organic carbon to deep-sea areas, fueling benthic communities as well as demersal fish assemblages. Deep sea habitats such as submarine canyons have an extreme importance in the maintenance of deep-sea benthic communities as they provide a variety of habitats suitable for zooplankton aggregations, colonization by benthic sessile communities such as deep-sea corals, sponges, and also the concentration of scavenger organisms such as shrimps, crabs and bottom fish.

During my PhD research I have been studying several submarine canyons off Hawaii, New Zealand and California to better understand the role of those seafloor features in very different productivity regimes in structuring as well as enhancing faunal biomass and biodiversity.

Submarine Canyons HAWAII

Submarine Canyons off Hawaii


Kaikoura Canyon, New Zealand

Kaikoura Submarine Canyon, East New Zealand Margin

We studied the deep-sea Kaikoura submarine canyon on the eastern New Zealand margin as part of the RENEWZ-NEW ZEEPS (Exploration of Chemosynthetic Habitats of the New Zealand Region) and NIWA's ‘Impact of resource use on vulnerable deep-sea communities’ research projects. Our quantitative samples and photographic surveys from the sediment-covered canyon floor indicate one of the most productive benthic habitats described so far in the deep sea (Nature highlights). Trawl data also show evidence of elevated demersal fish abundances associated with the canyon floor, especially of benthic-feeding species.