Sensitivity to Change

Because weathering processes in Antarctica are infinitely slow, terrestrial ecosystems in this harsh environment are extremely fragile. A wide-ranging review of the impacts of human activities and the susceptibility of the land systems to disturbance was carried out for the Ross Sea region (Campbell 2001), and showed that disturbances from human activities are long-lasting. Physical disturbances to the soils may persist for many hundreds of years, or in the most arid zones where recovery processes are negligible, be permanent. Chemical contaminations may also persist in the absence of significant leaching. Permafrost is likewise dramatically and rapidly altered when physical disturbance takes place. Less clear, however, are the future impacts of global climate change. Over recent decades, a distinct warming trend has been noted in the Antarctic Peninsula region, while recent data suggests that there may be a cooling trend in the East Antarctic region.

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