Abstract

Extreme climate and weather events, such as a drought, hurricanes, or ice storms, can strongly imprint ecosystem processing and may alter ecosystem structure. Ecosystems in extreme environments are particularly vulnerable because of their adaptation to severe limitations in energy, water, or nutrients. The vulnerability can be expressed as a relatively long-lasting ecosystem response to a small or brief change in environmental conditions. Such an event occurred in Antarctica and affected two vastly different ecosystems: a marine-dominated coastal system and a terrestrial polar desert. Both sites experienced winds that warmed air temperatures above the 0°C threshold, resulting in extensive snow and ice melt and triggering a series of cascading effects through the ecosystems that are continuing to play out more than a decade later. This highlights the sensitivity of Antarctic ecosystems to warming events, which should occur more frequently in the future with global climate warming.

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