Antarctic icebergs play key role in climate change: Study

March 26th, 2011 - 5:36 pm ICT by ANI  

London, March 26 (ANI): Researchers have discovered that when icebergs cool and dilute the seas through which they pass for days, they also raise chlorophyll levels in the water that may in turn increase carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern Ocean, a finding that has global implications for climate research.

The research indicates that “iceberg transport and melting have a role in the distribution of phytoplankton in the Weddell Sea,” which was previously unsuspected, said John J. Helly, director of the Laboratory for Environmental and Earth Sciences with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The results indicate that icebergs are especially likely to influence phytoplankton dynamics in an area known as “Iceberg Alley,” east of the Antarctic Peninsula, the portion of the continent that extends northwards toward Chile.

The teams’s research indicates that ordinary icebergs are likely to become more prevalent in the Southern Ocean, particularly as the Antarctic Peninsula continues a well-documented warming trend and ice shelves disintegrate. Research also shows that these ordinary icebergs are important features of not only marine ecosystems, but even of global carbon cycling.

“These new findings amplify the team’s previous discoveries about icebergs and confirm that icebergs contribute yet another, previously unsuspected, dimension of physical and biological complexity to polar ecosystems,” said Roberta L. Marinelli, director of the NSF’s Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program.

The researchers studied the effects by sampling the area around a large iceberg more than 32 kilometers (20 miles) long; the same area was surveyed again ten days later, after the iceberg had drifted away.

After ten days, the scientists observed increased concentrations of chlorophyll a and reduced concentrations of carbon dioxide, as compared to nearby areas without icebergs. These results are consistent with the growth of phytoplankton and the removal of carbon dioxide from the ocean.

The study has been published in journal Nature Geosciences. (ANI)

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