Feeds

Antarctic ice breakup makes ocean absorb more CO2

'Global implications for climate research', says US gov

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Some cheerful news on the climate change front today, as US government boffins report that ice breaking off the Antarctic shelves and melting in the sea causes carbon dioxide to be removed from the environment. This powerful, previously unknown "negative feedback" would seem likely to revise forecasts of future global warming significantly downwards.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) which funded the iceberg study, describes the results as having "global implications for climate research".

"These new findings... confirm that icebergs contribute yet another, previously unsuspected, dimension of physical and biological complexity to polar ecosystems," says Roberta Marinelli, director of the NSF's Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program.

A team of NSF-funded scientists examined the effects on an area of the Weddell Sea of a large (20 mile long) berg moving through, melting as it went and diluting the salty sea water - also adding key nutrients carried from the land. They found that after the iceberg had passed, levels of CO2 had plunged and much more chlorophyll was present. Chlorophyll is the substance in green plants which lets them suck in nasty CO2 and emit precious life-giving oxygen: in the Weddell Sea it was present in phytoplankton, tiny seagoing plantoids which are thought to account for half the carbon removed from the atmosphere globally.

The scientists say that more and more icebergs are set to be found in the seas around the Anatarctic as more ice breaks off the shelves attached to the peninsula which reaches up from the polar continent towards South America. This should mean more phytoplankton and thus less CO2.

The iceberg team consider that the increased number of bergs coming from the western Antarctic is the result of warming temperatures in the region, though recent research from British boffins has suggested that in fact other factors may be in play - at least in the case of the Pine Island Glacier, one of the major sources of sea ice in that area.

If the phytoplankton-boosting effect of the bergs is as big as the NSF appears to be suggesting, however, it would seem that any carbon-driven temperature rise could be at least partly self-correcting.

Increased iceberg shedding would seem likely to be seen mainly or only around the western peninsula: antarctic sea ice shelves elsewhere are actually growing, not shrinking, and at such a rate as to outweigh the peninsular losses. The past three decades have seen the south-polar ice sheets grow by 300,000 square kilometres overall.

The NSF study was originally published in the journal Deep Sea Research Part II (subscription required). It was flagged up more recently in Nature Geoscience's top picks (again, subscription link). The NSF also has a statement here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.