Teaching Geography article

We are delighted to provide a peer-reviewed article in the Geographical Association’s journal Teaching Geography to support teachers using our Antarctica StoryMap Series in the classroom.

Davies et al., 2021. Teaching Geography 46(3), 112 to 114

Please get in touch if you struggle to access this.

The article provides information on the four StoryMap collections, outlining their Geographical learning, provides a summary table of the series, and discusses the quality of the learning.

People and Antarctica StoryMap

This Antarctica StoryMap Collection focusses on the different people in Antarctica. We begin by touching on the first arrivals in Antarctica, including those which are often forgotten about, these collections have a strong focus on the geopolitics of Antarctica and how this influences its tourism. These four StoryMaps also introduce the different job roles in Antarctica and what it is like to live and work there.

Click the image below to open the StoryMap (note that the ‘Download as PDF’ button only prints out this webpage, not the StoryMap).

The People and Antartica StoryMap Collection is aimed at 13/14 year olds and upwards, but can also be adapted for different ages. You can find its complimentary Scheme of Work here. There are also some complementary articles on People in Antarctica here.

You can find the scheme of work for the ‘People And Antarctica‘ StoryMap Collection here.

People and Antarctica StoryMap Collection
People and Antarctica StoryMap Collection

People and Antarctica Funding and Contributors

The Antarctica StoryMap Collections were funded by an educational bursary from Antarctic Science Ltd and were supported by the British Antarctic Survey, ESRI, and Geography Southwest! We also thank numerous scientific advisors and contributors, who have helped to ensure that these resources are accurate, up to date, and unique.

Tourism in Antarctica

This article about Antarctica’s tourism has been written by Laura Boyall and Benjamin Samingpai.

A trip to Antarctica is not a common holiday destination for many people. However, since the 1950s, there has been a growing number of individuals travelling to the southernmost continent. And then from the 1980s, the growth has been exponential with a 600% rise in travellers [1]. Each season Antarctica sees approximately 170,000 visitors from mostly English-speaking countries. However, there has been a recent rise in the number of tourists from China [2,3]. Click on the figure below to explore how Antarctica’s tourism changed in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons.

Pie chart of Antarctica's tourists nationalities
https://infogram.com/the-international-association-of-antarctica-tour-operators-iaato-visitors-by-nationality-1hzj4o3x3wr034p

Since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, Antarctica has been designated as a place of peace and science, so this recent rise in tourism in Antarctica has sparked some debate about how sustainable tourism is. This article explains some of the steps which are taken to reduce the environmental impact of Antarctica’s tourism to ensure that more and more people can visit and see this unique icy continent [4].

Quark Expedition vessel in the background of two penguins. Quark are an Antarctica's tourism provider
Quark Expeditions vessel and two penguins. Derek Oyen

Managing Antarctica’s Tourism

Penguins huddling on some sea ice to see when partaking in Antarctica's tourism
Group of penguins on sea ice. Danielle Barnes

All human activity, including tourism in Antarctica, is governed by the Antarctic Treaty. This means that a set of rules and regulations are in place to manage Antarctica’s tourism to limit the environmental impacts on the continent [5]. An example of how tourism has been managed is the signing of the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection, which came into effect in 1998 [6]. Alongside other important environmental rules laid out in this protocol, such as waste disposal and marine pollution, this protocol specifically ensures that popular tourist sites are safe and environmentally protected.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO)

IAATO Logo. Antarctica's Tourism Industry's largest operator
IAATO Logo

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) are the main tourism body for Antarctica, which are made up of seven of the largest Antarctic tour operators [7]. IAATO have a series of sustainable goals which are in line with the Protocol on Environmental Protection such as a limited impact on the Antarctic environment, they help spread awareness of environmental issues, and support Antarctic science with logistical support and research.

Sustainable Tourism Activities

fluking-right-whale
Fluking right whale

There is a whole host of activities that tourists can do in Antarctica including water sports, wildlife excursions and mountain climbing, but there are also activities that help ongoing scientific research. This typically comes in the form of citizen science projects, but can also be helping with logistics, such as helping deliver equipment and supplies to researchers. There are a number of these projects available such as HappyWhale where tourists can upload images of whales they have spotted and their location to aid understanding about species distribution and numbers [8,9].

How Antarctica’s Tourism may not be Sustainable

Despite the sustainable procedures in place, tourism in Antarctica does have some environmental implications. Tourism in Antarctica typically occurs during the summer months (November to March) as it is when the sea ice surrounding the continent is at its minimum, allowing cruise ships to pass through with ease. However, this is when Antarctica is most sensitive with surface melt and ice shelf thinning at its highest, and ice accumulation at its lowest [10].

Threat to Antarctica’s Wildlife

The primary threat of humans visiting the most secluded continent on Earth is the introduction of alien species to its ecosystems. Seeds, bacteria and spores can enter Antarctica from items of clothing and equipment which can lead to the spread of invasive plant species and pathogens [11]. It is estimated that tourists can bring up to 9.5 seeds per person to Antarctica [14]. However, many tour operator staff are required to deep clean passengers belongings before they can step onto Antarctica.

Sinking ship MS Explorer on the 27th November 2007 threatened Antarctica's Tourism industry
Sinking MS Explorer. Wiki Commons

In addition to this, vessels visiting Antarctica’s waters can sink and release harmful toxins and fuels to the ocean, putting Antarctica’s ecosystems at risk. An example of this is the sinking of the MS Explorer within the Drake Passage on the 23rd November 2007 after colliding with an iceberg. Whilst all crew and passengers were saved, the environmental impacts of this can still be seen today. As the vessel sank, it released petroleum, oil and lubricants to be released into the ecosystem [15-17], causing devastation to its wildlife.

About the Authors

Laura is a PhD student at Royal Holloway University of London interested in decadal climate variability and policy. She has been working as a website assistant for the AntarcticGlaciers.org team for a year leading the ESRI StoryMap Collections and has written a series of introductory articles for the website.

Benjamin is a recent geography graduate from Royal Holloway University of London. He will be starting his postgraduate degree in ‘Holocene Climates’ at the University of Cambridge. Benjamin’s interests lie in understanding the environmental response and interactions between physical and human systems.

References

[1] Verbitsky, J. (2018) ‘Ecosystem services and Antarctica: the time has come?’, Ecosystem Services, 29(B), pp. 381-394.

[2] Verbitsky, J. (2013) ‘Antarctic tourism management and regulation: The need for change’, Polar Record, 49(3), pp. 278-285.

[3] Bender, N. A., Crosbie, K. and Lynch, H. J. (2016) ‘Patterns of tourism in the Antarctic Peninsula region: A 20-year analysis’, Antarctic Science, 28(3), pp. 194–203.

[4] Bastmeijer, Kees, Lamers, M. and Harcha, J. (2008) ‘Permanent land-based facilities for tourism in Antarctica: The need for regulation’, RECIEL, 17(1), pp. 84-99.

[5] Weber, M. (2012) ‘Cooperation of the Antarctic Treaty System with the International Maritime Organization and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators’, The Polar Journal, 2(2), pp. 372-390.

[6] O’Neill, T. A. (2017) ‘Protection of Antarctic soil environments: A review of the current issues and future challenges for the Environmental Protocol’, Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 76, pp. 153-164.

[7] Stonehouse, B. (1992) ‘IAATO: An association of Antarctic tour operators’, Polar Record, 28(167), pp. 322-324.

[8] Pfeiffer, S. and Peter, H.-U. (2004) ‘Ecological studies toward the management of an Antarctic tourist landing site (Penguin Island, South Shetland Islands)’, Polar Record, 40(4), pp. 345-353.

[9] Abdullah, N. C. and Shah, R. M. (2018) ‘Guidelines for Antarctic tourism: An evaluation’, Environment Behaviour Proceedings Journal, 3(7), pp. 1-6.

[10] Pfeiffer, S. and Peter, H-U. (2004) ‘Ecological studies towards the management of an Antarctic tourist landing site (Penguin Island, South Shetland Islands)’. Polar Record. 40(4). PP. 345-353

[11] Curry, C. H., McCarthy, J. S., Darragh, H. M., Wake, R. A., Todhunter, R. and Terris, J. (2002) ‘Could tourist boots act as vectors for disease transmission in Antarctica?’, Journal of Travel Medicine, 9(4), pp. 190–193.

[12] Chown, S. L., Huiskes, A. H. L., Gremmen, N. J. M., Lee, J. E., Terauds, A., Crosbie, K., Frenot, Y., Hughes, K. A., Imura, S., Kiefer, K., Lebouvier, M., Raymond, B., Tsujimoto, M., Ware, C., Van de Vijver, V. and Bergstrom, D. M. (2012) ‘Continent-wide risk assessment for the establishment of nonindigenous species in Antarctica’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(13), pp. 4938-4943.

[13] Kessely, B. (2007) Report of investigation in the matter of sinking of passenger vessel EXPLORER (O.N. 8495) 23 November 2007 in the Bransfield Strait near the South Shetland Islands [Online]. Available at: http://www.cruisejunkie.com/Explorer%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf (Accessed: 23 August 2021).

[14] Brosnan, I. G. (2011) ‘The diminishing age gap between polar cruisers and their ships: A new reason to codify the IMO Guidelines for ships operating in polar waters and make them mandatory?’, Marine Policy, 35(2), pp. 261-265.

[15] Ruoppolo, V., Woehler, E. J., Morgan, K. and Clumpner, C. J. (2013) ‘Wildlife and oil in the Antarctic: A recipe for cold disaster’, Polar Record, 49(2), pp. 97-109.

Introduction to People in Antarctica

Antarctica is the only continent with no permanent residents. Instead, over the last few hundred years there have been explorers, research scientists and ever-growing tourist numbers. The human presence in Antarctica is strictly controlled by a series of treaty’s, protocols and rules.

Here you will find an introduction to the people and Antarctica and you will find a link at the bottom of the page to the ESRI Storymap Collection.

You can also learn more in our ‘People in Antarctica‘ series of articles.

The Discovery of Antarctica

Artist's depiction of Captain Cooks voyage
Artist’s depiction of Captain Cook’s Second Voyage. Wikki Commons.

Despite the human presence in Antarctica having a short history, there have been lots of important events which have led up to the continent being like it is today.

The Antarctic continent is very distant geographically with conditions not suitable for early global explorers, thus prior to the 18th Century, the southernmost continent was only theorised. Antarctica’s human history began in 1773 with Captain Cook who set sail from Britain to the Antarctic Circle and was the first known voyage to do so [1]. Whilst Cook did not lay eyes on Antarctica, it encouraged proceeding explorers to attempt the discovery.

Caroline Mikkelsen was the first woman to set foot on Antarctica
Caroline Mikkelsen from Denmark was the first woman to step foot onto Antarctica in 1935. Ground Circle Travel

The first sighting of Antarctica

The first sighting of Antarctica was in 1820 by Admiral Bellinghausen of Russia, however conditions were too poor to reach the continent and thus the first landing was not for 75 years later in 1895 by Henryk Bull [1].

Since the initial sighting and landing, there have been a series of landmark events which has made Antarctica the place it is today, such as Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition, the first woman landing in 1935 (Caroline Mikkelsen), and the first African American man to reach Antarctica in 1940 [2].

Antarctica’s Geopolitics

Infographic of the countries who have signed the Antarctic Treaty

Antarctica is the most protected continent on Earth. The absence of a native population means that no single country or individual can take full claim on the continent.

Instead, Antarctica has seven claimant states: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom [3]. However, they don’t have full control on what can/cannot occur on their designated section due to the signing of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty is a document signed by 46 countries/states designating Antarctica as a continent for peace, science and cooperation. This ensures that in Antarctica there is to be no military action, nuclear testing and waste dumping and other environmental or geopolitical issues [3].

This treaty also has rules about wildlife, tourism and science. The signing of this treaty is the most unique example of global participation and geopolitics.

Antarctica’s Tourism

Whilst a trip down to Antarctica is not your usual holiday destination, it is becoming more and more popular. According to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), there were 73,991 visits to the Antarctic region between 2019-2020 [4]. Antarctica’s tourism began in the 1950s with passenger boats from Chile and Argentina and since then, numbers have continued to rise exponentially [4].  

Some tourists enjoying a local group of penguins
Tourists enjoying seeing a group of Penguins. Source: Wiki Commons

Antarctica’s fragile landscape holds great importance for wildlife, science and international geopolitics, so questions are often brought up about whether it is sustainable to keep having tourist visits. There have been steps but in place to limit the environmental impact of tourism.

Often tourists want to visit Antarctica to learn more about this unique landscape and have a holiday of a lifetime, but they leave Antarctica with much, much more. During their visit, many cruise ships and tour operators present lectures about the continent. They explain how it has been changing, the fragility of it and its importance. This means that when tourist return home they are knowledgeable.

Ambassadors for Antarctica

Many tourists who return also become ambassadors, spreading information about Antarctica’s importance. This is just one way tourism in Antarctica is becoming more and more sustainable, other ways include limiting numbers and taking waste back with them. Antarctica’s tourists can also have the opportunity to assist with science and ongoing research through citizen science such as Happy Whale, or through logistical support [4].

Working in Antarctica

People in Antarctica Collecting sediment samples for cosmogenic dating.
Collecting sediment samples from boulders in Antarctica

Lots of different people from different backgrounds can work in Antarctica. Typically, research scientists are dotted around the continent during the summer season. Workers can be taking sediment samples, extracting ice cores or monitoring wildlife. You can also get researchers such as meteorologists who are based in Antarctica for a whole year.

It is not only scientists who go to Antarctica however, there are teams of people with a large range of job roles such as chefs, carpenters, mechanics, and medical doctors, all playing an important part in ensuring everyone remains safe and happy in Antarctica.

There has been a gradual rise in the diversity of the people working in polar sciences, however the Polar Impact Network strives for more diversity. They have built a website with a host of resources for people of colour. These include upcoming student opportunities, children’s resources and tips for creating better working environments. You can find out more about their important work here and see how you can get involved.

Below is the link to the People and Antarctica StoryMap Collection.

References


[1] Discovering Antarctica Timeline. British Antarctic Survey. Available at: https://discoveringantarctica.org.uk/activities/antarctica_timeline/activity.php (last accessed 24/08/2021).

[2] Stein, G. (2010). The first African-American in Antarctica: George W. Gibbs Jr. Polar Record, 46(3), 281-282. doi:10.1017/S0032247409990507

[3] The Antarctic Treaty (2015). British Antarctic Survey Available at: https://www.bas.ac.uk/about/antarctica/the-antarctic-treaty/ (last accessed 25/08.2021

[4] IAATO Antarctic visitor figures 2019-2020. International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. Available at: https://iaato.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IAATO-on-Antarctic-visitor-figures-2019-20-FINAL.pdf (last accessed 24/08/2021)

Antarctica and Climate Change StoryMap

This Antarctica and Climate Change StoryMap Collection focuses on contemporary climate change in Antarctica, and how this is driving changes in the ocean currents around the ice sheet.

Click the image below to open the StoryMap (note that the ‘Download as PDF’ button only prints out this webpage, not the StoryMap).

The Collection of four StoryMaps then explores how Antarctica may drive sea level rise in coming decades to centuries. It is set at an introductory level, aimed at 13/14 year olds and upwards.

You can find the scheme of work for the ‘Climate Change and Antarctica‘ StoryMap Collection here.

Antarctica and Climate Change StoryMap Collection

Funding and Contributors

The Antarctica StoryMap Collections were funded by an educational bursary from Antarctic Science Ltd and were supported by the British Antarctic Survey, ESRI, and Geography Southwest! We also thank numerous scientific advisors and contributors, who have helped to ensure that these resources are accurate, up to date, and unique.

The Wildlife of Antarctica StoryMap

This Wildlife of Antarctica StoryMap Collection introduces the wildlife of Antarctica and the Antarctic food web. Investigate Emporer Penguins and use GIS resources and satellite imagery to find their colonies. Learn about krill and how they are the basis of the Antarctic food chain!

Click the image below to open the StoryMap (note that the ‘Download as PDF’ button only prints out this webpage, not the StoryMap).

This Collection of five StoryMaps links to our Antarctic Wildlife article, and has a blank food web for students to complete.

This StoryMap Collection is designed for students (age 13/14 upwards, or key stage 3/4) who are learning about polar environments and polar food webs.

You can find the scheme of work for the ‘Wildlife of Antarctica‘ StoryMap Collection here.

Wildlife of Antarctica StoryMap Collection
This StoryMap collection focuses on Emperor Penguins and Krill. Can you find the penguin colonies from space?

The Antarctic Wildlife Storymap uses imagery from Sentinel Hub to allow students to map penguin colonies from space, by finding their guano!

Imagery provided by Sentinel Hub

You can watch the full video of the interview betwen Dr Bethan Davies (Royal Holloway University of London) and Dr Huw Griffiths (British Antarctic Survey) on YouTube. It also is divided into shorter segments and embedded within the Krill storymap in the Wildlife Storymap Collection.

Interview between De Bethan Davies and Dr Huw Griffiths discussing Antarctic food webs and krill

Funding and Contributors

The Antarctica StoryMap Collections were funded by an educational bursary from Antarctic Science Ltd and were supported by the British Antarctic Survey, ESRI, and Geography Southwest! We also thank numerous scientific advisors and contributors, who have helped to ensure that these resources are accurate, up to date, and unique.

An introduction to the Physical Geography of Antarctica StoryMap

This Antarctica StoryMap Collection introduces the physical geography of Antarctica. There are some basic GIS activities for students to help experiential learning, and some great imagery and videos. It includes five StoryMaps to explore Antarctica’s icey features.

Click the image below to open the StoryMap (note that the ‘Download as PDF’ button only prints out this webpage, not the StoryMap).

You can find the scheme of work for the ‘An Introduction to the Physical Geography of Antarctica‘ StoryMap Collection here.

This StoryMap introduces the different kinds of ice and physical geography of Antarctica.

This StoryMap collection is designed to be used by school children and teachers (age 13/14 upwards) studying Geography and learning about Extreme Environments, Polar Environments and Antarctica. It includes interactive GIS activities, videos and imagery, and assumes no previous knowledge.

There are complementary articles introducing Antarctica here, including Seasons of Antarctica, Antarctica’s icey features, and more!

Funding and Contributors

This StoryMap Collection was supported by an AntarcticScience educational Bursary awarded to Dr Bethan Davies. We thank our team of scientific advisors, ESRI UK, the British Antarctic Survey and Geography SouthWest for their support.

Antarctica and Climate Change

Since the early 20th Century, global air temperatures have shown an increasing trend. This pattern has coincided with the continuous release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The rising temperatures are already having negative effects on many of our natural environments including, oceans, deserts, and glacial landscapes, including Antarctica.

The warming stripes below show annual global average temperatures from 1850 to 2019. The more red the colour, the more above-average the temperature. You can see that recent years have been far warmer than any time in the last 100 years.

Global temperature stripes from 1850-2019 (Ed Hawkins: Show Your Stripes)

Exploring Antarctica’s climate changes in the past, present and future

Ice core from GISP2 illustrating the annual layers. From the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Wikimedia Commons.

Since the beginning of time, before humans were even present, climate has been changing. It has been switching between warmer than present periods, known as interglacials, and colder than present periods, known as glacials. Over the last million years, it has made this switch approximately every 100,000 years.

Archives of past climate change

We know this by using environmental archives, such as ice cores from Antarctica. These ice cores are long poles of ice which contain annual layers of ice from thousands of years ago – some even from 800,000 years ago! Each winter a new layer of snow is formed and over time it is compacted and forms an annual layer of ice.

Ice core locations in Antarctica
Antarctic ice core drill sites with depth and record duration. From the US ITASE project.

Ice cores are often drilled from the centre of an ice sheet where there is the thickest and slowest-moving ice. This means the scientists can get really long records without the layers of ice being deformed.

These ice-core records provide important information about these past changes in the climate system, the ice thickness, and can also tell us about the change in atmospheric gasses over time, as shown in the figure below. This figure is showing the change in temperature and ice thickness from two different ice cores (EPICA and Vostok) from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Antarctica and Present-Day Warming

The effects of increasing temperatures on environments can already be seen in some areas of the globe, including Antarctica. Antarctica is one of the fastest warming places on Earth because of a process known as polar amplification. Alongside air temperature rises, the oceans around Antarctica are also warming.

This rapid warming is causing oceans to warm allowing increased melt on the underside of ice shelves, causing them to eventually collapse. Ice shelves have an important role in holding back the ice on the land. Therefore, when ice shelves collapse, it causes the ice on the land to become unstable and flow faster.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is of great concern to scientists as the bedrock beneath the extensive coastline of ice shelves is sloping. This means that the grounding line, which is the point at which the ice begins to float, is beneath areas of much thicker ice, as shown on the figure below. The thicker ice flows much faster, therefore causing a greater amount of ice discharge into the oceans.

Illustration of the sloping bedrock beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Future Climate Change and Antarctica

Global sea levels since the industrial period (1850) have shown an increasing trend. Sea levels are increasing by more than 3 mm per year and are set to increase as global air temperatures rise. As Antarctica has the largest store of freshwater, it has the greatest potential to affect sea levels around the world.

Antarctica has a total sea level equivalent of almost 60m. This means that, that if the whole of the Antarctic continent were to melt, then there will be almost 60m of sea level rise. This would effect many coastal regions all around the world.

Antarctica has this much sea-level-equivalent because it is just so huge. It is bigger than the United States of America and has an average thickness of ice of 2.4 km, all over the continent. In some places, the ice is more than 4000 m thick!

Ice SheetSea Level Equivalent
The Antarctic Peninsula0.2m
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet4.3m
The East Antarctic Ice Sheet53.3m
Sea level equivalents for Antarctica’s ice shelves

Future sea level rise

Much of the British coastline is currently protected by a sea wall, promenade or another type of coastal defence. These have been built to protect the land from large storm events, however due to the rising sea level, storms surges are getting larger. This means that over time, coastal defences are not able to defend from storm events as the waves are able to topple over the defences causing more flooding inland.

Climate change in Antarctica StoryMap

You can learn more about climate change in Antarctica through this interactive ESRI StoryMap. It is free to use and will open in your browser, no need to download any special software.

StoryMap collection exploring climate change in Antarctica. This StoryMap Collection is targeted for people aged ~13/14 upwards.

Further reading

Wildlife of Antarctica

Antarctica’s wildlife is diverse and unique. It is the only continent on Earth which has no terrestrial mammals, but is home to a range of marine wildlife and birds, including penguins! The most common birds in Antarctica are penguins. It is home to 18 different species, including the Emperor Penguin.

Penguins playing on an ice floe in the waters surrounding Antarctica
Penguins on an ice floe. Photo credit: Belinda Vause

Antarctica’s Wildlife and its Food Web

The Antarctic food web is much shorter than most. Here in Antarctica there are only four main trophic levels shown in the figure below.

Antarctica's Food web
Simplified Illustration of Antarctica’s Food Chain

The Emperor Penguin

The Emperor Penguin is the largest of all penguin species, they can be up to 130cm tall, and on average weighs 23kg as an adult.

Emperor penguins in Antarctica
Emperor penguins. By Ian Duffy

Where do Emperor Penguins Live?

Emperor penguins, like all penguins in Antarctica, live in colonies dotted around the coastline. Emperor penguins are unique in having colonies on sea ice. Sea ice is frozen sea water which fringes the Antarctic continent. In the winter, the sea ice extent expands. In the summer, it shrinks as the sea ice melts. By the time the chicks are ready to fledge, the sea ice edge is close to the colony, so the young penguins don’t have to travel far to get their food.

There are so many penguin colonies around Antarctica that scientists are not able to count them when they visit. Instead, they use satellite data, which takes images from space. They are able to see locations of penguin colonies because of a reddish-brown mark on the ice which can be seen from space. This is known as penguin guano (penguin poo) – yes, you have read that right, penguin poo! Their poo is this distinctive colour because of the food they eat. Penguins live on a diet of fish, squid and krill. And it is krill which causes a penguins poo to be the distinct reddish-brown colour.

Krill is not only eaten by just penguins, it is a very important food source for many other species in Antarctica’s wildlife.

Krill

The producer in Antarctica are tiny organisms, known as phytoplankton. These organisms get their energy from the sunlight. Krill is then the main consumer of the phytoplankton, which is eaten by many other organisms such as penguins, birds, or even ginormous elephant seals! Because there are so many different organisms feeding from the krill, there needs to be lots and lots of krill available, especially as they are only 2 inches long!

Image of Antarctic Krill swimming
Antarctic krill. By Øystein Paulsen – MAR-ECO, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=225249

In the video below, watch Dr Bethan Davies (glaciologist) and Dr Huw Griffiths (marine biologist) discuss krill and their important role in Antarctic food webs.

Orca

At the top of the food chain, there are Orcas, often known as Killer Whales. These are the biggest carnivores on Earth, reaching almost 10m in length! They can be found swimming all around the Earth’s oceans, but in particular in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

As you can see from the food chain above, their diet mainly consists of seals as they have a high amount of fat which can keep a hungry whale going in the year-round freezing temperatures. Not all of their meals are as big as a seal, a lot of the time Orcas consume different fish species.

Orcas swimming in a pod. Image courtesy of Mike Doherty. BAS

Seals

There are many different seals in Antarctica. They have thick beautiful fur coats and blubber, making them supremely adapted to the cold. There are six species in Antarctica: Antarctic Fur Seals, Leopard Seals, Ross Seals, Southern Elephant seals, Crabeater Seals and Weddell Seals.

Seals eat fish, krill, squid, and leopard seals will even eat penguins or other seals.

The leopard seal: a fearsome predator. Image courtesy of Mike Doherty. BAS

The Fur Seal has ears, and is actually a sealion! It can stand up taller and ‘walk’ on its flippers, unlike the other ‘true’ seals.

fur-seal_cape-lachmann
A fur seal, seen on Cape Lachman, James Ross Island, northern Antarctic Peninsula, February 2011, Photo credit: Bethan Davies

Seals spend much of their time on or under the sea ice, and catch most of their food under water. On land, they are slow and akward, but they are wonderful and elegant swimmers.

The largest seals are Elephant Seals; male elephant seals can weigh up to 5000 kg!

Elephant seals clustering together on the Islands. Photo credit: Bethan Davies
Elephant seal. Image courtesy of Mike Doherty. BAS

Antarctic wildlife storymap

To learn more about Antarctic wildlife, please visit the Antarctic Wildlife Storymap collection!

In this free storymap, users can interact with satellite imagery, learn about penguin colonies in Antarctica, and learn how Antarctic food webs work.

Further reading