Antarctic Science

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Antarctic Science (2010), 22:255-263 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Antarctic Science Ltd 2010

Biological Sciences

Glacier retreat on South Georgia and implications for the spread of rats

A.J. Cooka1 c1, S. Ponceta2, A.P.R. Coopera1, D.J. Herberta1 and D. Christiea3

a1 British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
a2 South Georgia Surveys, PO Box 756 Stanley, Falkland Islands FIQQ 1ZZ
a3 Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI), Government House, Stanley, Falkland Islands
Article author query
cook aj [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
poncet s [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
cooper apr [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
herbert dj [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
christie d [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


Using archival photography and satellite imagery, we have analysed the rates of advance or retreat of 103 coastal glaciers on South Georgia from the 1950s to the present. Ninety-seven percent of these glaciers have retreated over the period for which observations are available. The average rate of retreat has increased from 8 Ma-1 in the 1950s to 35 Ma-1 at present. The largest retreats have all taken place along the north-east coast, where retreat rates have increased to an average of 60 Ma-1 at present, but those on the south-west coast have also been steadily retreating since the 1950s. These data, along with environmental information about South Georgia, are included in a new Geographic Information System (GIS) of the island. By combining glacier change data with the present distribution of both endemic and invasive species we have identified areas where there is an increased risk of rat invasion to unoccupied coastal regions that are currently protected by glacial barriers. This risk has significant implications for the surrounding ecosystem, in particular depletion in numbers of important breeding populations of ground-nesting birds on the island.

(Received August 05 2009)

(Accepted December 10 2009)

(Online publication February 17 2010)

Key wordsecosystem; GIS; invasive species; sub-Antarctic