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Life at the Poles: Eight Polar Animals That Face the Promise and Peril of Climate Change

When sea ice disappears some polar inhabitants advance, whereas others retreat

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THIN-SHELLED:

When carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves in the ocean, it makes the water more acidic. This change in pH can interfere with shellfish, hindering their ability to build shells. Animals in Antarctic waters are particularly at risk because their shells tend to be precariously thin.....[ More ]

ICE MINE:

Adélie penguins [ pictured ] and emperor penguins only live in areas where there is sea ice. When the ice disappears, so do they. Adélie populations have decreased by 65 percent since the 1980s.....[ More ]

KRILL KILL:

Say hello to krill, shrimplike crustaceans that live in the sea. They are the principal food source for many animals, including penguins, seals and—especially—baleen whales. In the ocean near the Antarctic Peninsula, krill have plummeted about 80 percent in the past 30 years, which has affected the entire food chain there.....[ More ]

PRETTY PLANKTON:

Diatoms are single-celled algae that dominate the bottom of the food web along the Antarctic Peninsula, which is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. Since 1950, the peninsula has increased in temperature about 6.1 degrees Fahrenheit (3.4 degrees Celsius).....[ More ]

SAND FLEAS OF THE SEAS:

In the Arctic, another food chain stems from the sea ice itself. The bottom 0.8 inch (two centimeters) of the ice that floats in Arctic waters is home to hundreds of species of algae and tiny animals.....[ More ]

ON THE ROCKS:

The polar bear [ pictured ], narwhal and hooded seal are the Arctic mammals most sensitive to climate change, according to a recent analysis. Hooded seals and polar bears are especially at risk because of their reliance on a sea ice habitat.....[ More ]

SITTING DUCK:

Another animal that could see problems as food on the sea floor decreases is the spectacled eider ( Somatera fuscgeri ),an Arctic sea duck. (This photograph is part of the traveling photo exhibit "Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a Warming World".)....[ More ]

BOTTOM-FEEDERS:

Walruses, like other creatures that depend on food from the seafloor, may be in for trying times, says Brendan Kelly, a marine biologist who studies walruses and seals at the University of Alaska Southeast.....[ More ]

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