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Every Antarctic Creature Known, Mapped

Aug 29, 2014 05:03 PM EDT

Researchers believe they have successfully mapped every known species that lives the Antarctic ocean, creating an atlas that they hope will make the effects of climate change in the region easier to track.

They are calling it "The Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean" and it maps out the biodiversity of every marine species from the Southern Ocean waters to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The atlas reportedly took four years of international partnership between teams of oceanographer and marine biologists. More than 800 maps and 100 color photos make up 66 chapters examining the habitats, complex species interplay, and even genetics of the well over 9000 species that can be found in Antarctic waters.

It also examines the possible impact climate change will have on these organisms.

Michael Stoddart from the University of Tasmania told ABC that the atlas will stand as a benchmark for all future climate change research, and will help conservationalists better understand the region.

"It's as comprehensive an overview as we can put together," he said.

The complete project can be found digitally online, allowing researcher to easily find the information they are looking for, but like any true atlas it was also published as a nearly eight pound paperweight - the kind you find on sturdy coffee tables in impressive offices.

Stoddart said that aside from setting things up for easier work in the future, the couple thousand researchers involved in the project also found that the Southern Ocean is a "hot bed of speciation."

"That means it's a place where a lot of species arise and then move from there to other parts of the world," he explained.

He gave the sea spider and deep sea octopuses as two examples, where the genetic information of these creatures - now found all over the world - can be traced all the way back to Antarctic origins.

Still, the main point of the atlas speaks for itself; it tells researchers what they will find when looking at the Southern Ocean's chilly waters.

"How do we know if things are changing, and whether they're changing naturally or not, unless we know what's there?" Graham Hosie, a contributor to the project from the Australian Antarctic Division, asked New Scientist. "This type of bare-bones empirical information is what you need."

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