Environment Forum

On Antarctic safaris, remember to bring a microscope

Many people hope to come back from a wildlife safari with close-up pictures of lions or elephants – this picture below is my best attempt from a search for the largest land animals in Antarctica.

If you look hard you can see a reddish blob at the tip of the thumb — it’s Antarctica’s most aggressive land predator, an eight-legged mite known as Rhagidia.

Pete Convey, a biologist at the British Antarctic Survey (that’s his thumb), says that such tiny creatures evolved in Antarctica over tens of millions of years — they can freeze their bodies in winter in an extreme form of hibernation.

Penguins, seals and whales are the best known animals in Antarctica, but none live year-round on land, where the biggest creature is a flightless midge whose name is ”Belgica antarctica” and who’s about 0.5 cm long.

Global warming could mean problems for some of these tiny creatures if it keeps going — the Antarctic Peninsula where Pete showed us the creatures has warmed by about 3 Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) over the past 50 years, the fastest rate in the southern hemisphere.

Yellow submarine to explore Antarctic glaciers

A yellow robot submarine will dive under an ice shelf in Antarctica to seek clues to world ocean level rises in one of the most inaccessible places on earth, reports our environment correspondent Alister Doyle. You can see his story here.

The 7-meter (22 ft) submarine, to be launched from a U.S. research vessel, will probe the underside of the ice at the end of the Pine Island glacier, which is moving faster than any other in Antarctica and already brings more water to the oceans than Europe’s Rhine River.

Scientists have long observed vast icebergs breaking off Antarctica’s ice shelves – extensions of glaciers floating on the sea – but have been unable to get beneath them to see how deep currents may be driving the melt from below.

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