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Antarctic icebergs play a previously unknown role in global carbon cycle, climate
Date:3/25/2011

In a finding that has global implications for climate research, scientists 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.

An interdisciplinary research team supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) highlighted the research this month in the journal Nature Geosciences.

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.

Helly was the lead author of the paper, "Cooling, Dilution and Mixing of Ocean Water by Free-drifting Icebergs in the Weddell Sea," which was first published in the journal Deep-Sea Research Part II.

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 latest findings add a new dimension to previous research by the same team that altered the perception of icebergs as large, familiar, but passive, elements of the Antarctic seascape. The team previously showed that icebergs act, in effect, as ocean "oases" of nutrients for aquatic life and sea birds.

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.

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Contact: Debra Wing
dwing@nsf.gov
703-292-5344
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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