Antarctica is changing rapidly since The Last Desert 2006

Including the first edition of The Last Desert in 2006, RacingThePlanet has visited the vast white desert of Antarctica nine times, with a tenth expedition planned for 26 November 2024. In that period, Antarctica, long considered a stalwart sanctuary for wildlife and scientific research, has been undergoing a dramatic transformation in its landscape, it’s animal populations, and its human led research.

The Antarctic Peninsula, where The Last Desert takes place, is a treasure trove of varying and stunning environments, like the warmer waters and volcanic beaches of Deception Island and the icy formations around Neko Harbour. These areas have always put on a fantastic show of the vast natural beauty that Antarctica has to offer. In recent years, however, the region has been increasingly ramping up one spectacle in particular: ice melting and glacial loss. In the 1990’s the Larsen Ice shelf began a well publicised disintegration of its ice into the ocean, followed by quickening of the area’s glacial movement. As the glaciers speed their descent into the sea, they contribute to the global rise of sea levels. In 2006, the British Antarctic Survey found direct evidence linking the collapsing ice shelves of Antarctica to human led climate change. Since then, West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula in particular have experienced exponential levels of melting, with levels of melt more than tripling in just past few years. In 2017, the Larsen Ice Shelf began an even steeper decline with a breakup of Larsen C (the ice shelf was so large it’s broken up into four parts, A-D). The ice loss at the poles has gone from 116 billion tonnes per year in the 90’s to 410 billion tonnes now. With an average increase in temperature of around 3.1 degrees Celsius, even in the short term the overall look of Antarctica may change drastically.

 Deception Island's volcanic terrain

The rapid change in environment has had a curious effect on the wildlife of Antarctica. The melting of the ice has had a significant impact on one of the region’s most important species: Antarctic Krill. The krill feed on phytoplankton which grow beneath the ice, and the melt has shrunk the area in which those phytoplankton can be found. Their range has declined southward 4 degrees latitude in just the last couple decades, compressing all the populations dependent on krill closer together. Humpback whales, penguins, seals, and more all rely on krill as a staple of the food web, and an increase in krill fishing has exacerbated the problem. As sea ice levels decline, the animals that depend on krill will likely struggle even more. To add to the issue for the penguins, the days in which sea ice is present has decreased by 85 days in the Antarctic Peninsula, which many penguins depend upon for breeding. The adelie and chinstrap penguins have seen some of their colonies decline by as much as 45% in just a few years.


Photo Credit: Thiago Diz

The science studying these rapid changes has seen a rapid increase in the past decade. Research bases dedicated to studying the ice and wildlife are being built with each passing year. New stations have been established by Korea, China, Chile, Russia, The Netherlands, and the UK, to name a few. The United States remains one of the largest presences in Antarctica, though the Covid-19 Pandemic in recent years has led to a struggle with funding and staffing stations. Since All together Antarctica has around 70 permanent research stations which represent 29 countries from around the globe. Researchers work intently to unravel the mystery of what is happening to Antarctica, its wildlife, and their effects on the rest of the globe.


It is difficult to definitively say what Antarctica will look like in years from now. The melting of Antarctica’s ice sheets and glaciers will continue through the end of the century in some form, regardless of human intervention. The animal populations will continue to deal will the fallout of these changes, whether they interact with the humans causing their situation or not. Research will continue to expand, with new bases springing up to study all of these changes. So when we visit Antarctica again for The Last Desert in 2024, it is important to consider that we stand on a land in constant flux, experiencing one of the most significant declines in ages. Only through immediate and comprehensive climate action can humankind save the White Desert.



Works Cited

“Antarctic Ice and Rising Sea Levels.” Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, 21 Nov. 2023,

Bishop, Caitlyn. “A Look Into the International Research Stations of Antarctica.” Oceanwide Expeditions, 2023,

Brangham, William, et al. “Ice Sheets in Greenland, Antarctica Melting Faster than Previously Thought, Research Shows.” PBS News Hour, Public Broadcasting Service, 20 Apr. 2023.

Christensen, Jen. “The Climate Change Winners and Losers in Antarctica’s Animal Kingdom.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Jan. 2019,

“Dramatic Decline in Adélie Penguins near Mawson.” Australian Government – Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water: Australian Antarctic Division | Australian Antarctic Program, 11 Oct. 2022,

Jentoft-Nilsen, Marit. Antarctic Ice Mass Loss 2002-2023. NASA, NASA/JPL CalTech, 15 Nov. 2023,

Mervis, Jeffrey. “U.S. Cancels or Curtails Half of Its Antarctic Research Projects.” Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 14 Sept. 2023,

Turner, John, and Thomas Bracegirdle. “Antarctica and Climate Change.” British Antarctic Survey, National Environmental Research Council, 4 July 2022,

“Whales, Penguins and Krill Feeling the Heat in Antarctica.” WWF Australia, 28 Oct. 2019,

“What Happened to the Larsen Ice Shelf?” National Snow and Ice Data Center, CIRES, University of Colorado Boulder, 2021,