Navigation Links
Antarctic icebergs -- Hotspots of ocean life

Global climate change is causing Antarctic ice shelves to shrink and split apart, yielding thousands of free-drifting icebergs in the nearby Weddell Sea. According to a new study in this week’s journal Science these floating islands of ice – some as large as a dozen miles across – are having a major impact on the ecology of the ocean around them, serving as “hotspots” for ocean life, with thriving communities of seabirds above and a web of phytoplankton, krill, and fish below.

The icebergs hold trapped terrestrial material, which they release far out at sea as they melt. The researchers discovered that this process produces a “halo effect” with significantly increased phytoplankton, krill and seabirds out to a radius of more than two miles around the icebergs. They may also play a surprising role in global climate change.

“One important consequence of the increased biological productivity is that free-floating icebergs can serve as a route for carbon dioxide drawdown and sequestration of particulate carbon as it sinks into the deep sea,” said oceanographer Ken Smith of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), first author and principal investigator for the research.

“While the melting of Antarctic ice shelves is contributing to rising sea levels and other climate change dynamics in complex ways, this additional role of removing carbon from the atmosphere may have implications for global climate models that need to be further studied,” added Smith.

To understand the icebergs’ complex impacts, the multidisciplinary team of researchers carried out the most comprehensive study ever done of individual icebergs and their immediate environment, taking a wide array of measurements – physical, biological and chemical, and using satellite images provided by NASA.

At the same time, the wealth of data brought new challenges in how to manage this avalanche of information. “The whole is definitely greater than th e sum of the parts, and to answer questions across the different areas from ecology to chemistry and climate, scientists need access to all the data,” explained researcher John Helly of the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego who managed the data. “And we need to reliably harvest this information at sea, thousands of miles from our shore-based labs, and to preserve it as a unique snapshot of these iceberg ecosystems at this point in history.”

Using SDSC-developed technologies, Helly collected the data using the SIOExplorer-in-a-Box digital library system ( and then stored the information in collections at SDSC for access and analysis by scientists now and in the future.

Just getting to the icebergs was a challenge. First the scientists used satellite images to select two icebergs to study in detail. Then they sailed aboard the Antarctic research vessel Laurence M. Gould to reach their targets in the remote Weddell Sea, an arm of the Southern Atlantic Ocean that cuts into the Antarctic continent southeast of Cape Horn. The icebergs in the study were up to a dozen miles long and more than 120 feet high, with one extending nearly 1,000 feet into the depths.

Despite the risks of getting close to these mountains of ice – which can shed huge pieces or overturn without warning – the scientists began their shipboard sampling mere hundreds of feet from the icebergs and continued out to a distance of some five miles, where the icebergs’ influence was no longer detectable.

“Phytoplankton around the icebergs was enriched with large diatom cells, known for their role in productive systems such as upwelling areas of the west coast of the U.S. or ice-edge communities in polar oceans. As diatoms are the preferred food for krill, we expect the changes in phytoplankton community composition to favor grazing as a key biological process involved in carbon sequestration around free-floating icebergs,” said oceanographer Maria Vernet from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, one of the members of the research team.

“We used a small, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the submerged sides of the icebergs and the waters between the bergs and where the ship was, standing off at a safe distance,” said Bruce Robison of MBARI, an oceanographer and ROV pilot. “We flew the ROV into underwater caves and to the undersides of the icebergs, identifying and counting animals with its color video camera, collecting samples, and surveying its topography.”

Based on their new understanding of the impacts of the icebergs and their growing numbers -- the researchers counted close to 1,000 in satellite images of some 4,300 square miles of ocean -- the scientists estimate that overall the icebergs are raising the biological productivity of nearly 40 percent of the Weddell Sea’s area.

Source:University of California - San Diego

Related biology news :

1. Antarctic ice shelf retreats happened before
2. Ice core dipstick indicates West Antarctic ice has thinned less than believed
3. B-15A collides with Antarctic ice tongue
4. Discovering an ecosystem beneath a collapsed Antarctic ice shelf
5. Sea Ice May Be on Increase in the Antarctic
6. Freeze-dried mats of microbes awaken in Antarctic streambed
7. The Antarctic Ocean floor
8. Thin tough skin, slow-growing gills protect larval Antarctic fish
9. Scientists find Antarctic ozone hole to recover later than expected
10. Antarctic Treaty Meeting moves to protect frozen continent from non-native species
11. Researchers discover which organs in Antarctic fish produce antifreeze

Post Your Comments:

(Date:11/9/2015)... Calif. , Nov. 9, 2015  Synaptics Inc. ... interface solutions, today announced broader entry into the automotive ... solutions that match the pace of consumer electronics human ... biometric sensors are ideal for the automotive industry and ... Europe , ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... Oct. 29, 2015   MedNet Solutions , an ... spectrum of clinical research, is pleased to announce that ... Association (MHTA) as one of only three finalists for ... – Small and Growing" category. The Tekne Awards honor ... shown superior technology innovation and leadership. ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015  Rubicon Genomics, Inc., today announced an ... its DNA library preparation products, including the ThruPLEX ... Plasma-seq kit. ThruPLEX Plasma-seq has been optimized for ... libraries for liquid biopsies--the analysis of cell-free circulating ... in cancer and other conditions. Eurofins Scientific is ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... CA (PRWEB) , ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... genomics company uBiome, were featured on AngelList early in their initial angel funding ... an AngelList syndicate for individuals looking to make early stage investments in the ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... SAN DIEGO , Nov. 24, 2015 Halozyme Therapeutics, ... Jaffray Healthcare Conference in New York on ... Dr. Helen Torley , president and CEO, will provide a ... New York at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. ... communication and investor relations, will provide a corporate overview. --> ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. (NASDAQ: ... on behalf of the Toronto Stock Exchange, confirms that ... are no corporate developments that would cause the recent ... --> --> About Aeterna Zentaris Inc. ... --> Aeterna Zentaris is a specialty biopharmaceutical ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led ... also known as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. ... members have embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation pilots have ...
Breaking Biology Technology: