Press release

New atlas of Southern Ocean marine life

[25. August 2014] 

Bremerhaven/Auckland 25 August 2014. A new atlas, providing the most thorough audit of marine life in the Southern Ocean, is published this week by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). Leading marine biologists and oceanographers from all over the world spent the last four years compiling everything they know about ocean species from microbes to whales. Amongst them experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. 

In an unprecedented international collaboration 147 scientists from 91 institutions across 22 countries (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA) combined their expertise and knowledge to produce the new Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean. More than 9000 species are recorded, ranging from microbes to whales. Hundreds of thousands of records show the extent of scientific knowledge on the distribution of life in the Southern Ocean. In 66 chapters, the scientists examine the evolution, physical environment, genetics and possible impact of climate change on marine organisms in the region. It’s the first time that such an effort has been undertaken since 1969 when the American Society of Geography published its Antarctic Map Folio Series. 

Chief editor, Claude De Broyer, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, said: “This is the first time that all the records of the unique Antarctic marine biodiversity, from the very beginnings of Antarctic exploration in the days of Captain Cook, have been compiled, analysed and mapped by the scientific community. It has resulted in a comprehensive atlas and an accessible database of useful information on the conservation of Antarctic marine life.”

The data, and expert opinions, in the Atlas will help inform conservation policy, including the debate over whether or not to establish marine protected areas in the open ocean. Sophisticated environmental models coupled with existing species distribution data provide a valuable outlook on the possible future distribution of key species as they adapt to climate change.

Prof. Dr. Julian Gutt, biologist at the Alfred Wegner Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine research, co-editor and author of several chapters of the atlas, takes a look into the future: “The project is trendsetting because we as experts are now working on the online-version of the atlas. Everybody around the world is going t be able to retrieve all the data – including recently obtained ones.”

New advances in genetics have shed light on some of the best known species from the Antarctic sea floor. The giant isopod crustacean Glyptonotus antarcticus is one of those. The animal lives on the edge of the continent at depths of up to 600 metres. Previously considered to be a single species with a circumpolar distribution, molecular barcoding suggests it may, in reality, be a group with up to eleven species inhabiting much smaller geographic regions. 

The Atlas contains around 100 colour photos and 800 maps. It will be launched at the SCAR 2014 Open Science Conference in Auckland, New Zealand on Monday 25th August.

 

Notes for editors

You can find further images in this photo-gallery.

Your contact at the Alfred Wegener Institute is Prof. Dr. Julian Gutt (currently in Auckland - please contact him by e-mail: Julian.Gutt@awi.de)

Your contact at the Communiactions department is Dr. Folke Mehrtens (phone: +49 471 4831-2007; e-mail: Folke.Mehrtens@awi.de)

The Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean is published by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1ER, United Kingdom (www.scar.org). Atlas website: atlas.biodiversity.aq

Photos, videos and maps are available from this ftp site from the Brintish Antarctic Survey (BAS): ftp://ftp.nerc-bas.ac.uk/pub/photo/biogeographic_atlas/

The publication is funded by the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (Albert P. Sloan Foundation, New York) and the TOTAL Foundation, Paris, and shared the Cosmos Prize awarded to the Census of Marine Life by the International Osaka Expo’90 Commemorative Foundation, Tokyo, Japan.

It is supported by:

·       The Belgian Science Policy (Belspo), through the Belgian Scientific Research Programme on the Antarctic and the “biodiversity.aq” network (SCAR-MarBIN/ANTABIF)

·       The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS), Brussels, Belgium

·       The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Cambridge, United Kingdom

·       The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Swindon, United Kingdom

·       The Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Paris, France

·       The Australian Antarctic Division, Hobart, Australia

·       The Scientific Steering Committee of CAML, Michael Stoddart (CAML Administrator) and Victoria Wadley (CAML Project Manager)

 

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The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research ice breaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the national and international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centers of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.