New Ocean Carbon Sink Blooms as Antarctic Ice Retreats Rapidly

phytoplankton photo

photo: Wikipedia.

There aren't too many good un-anticipated consequences when it comes to climate change, but here's one: Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey have discovered that in areas of open water left exposed by rapid ice melting around the Antarctic Peninsula, large new blooms of phytoplankton are occurring. As the blooms die off they sink to the bottom, storing away carbon they've absorbed from the atmosphere:

antarctic peninsula map image
The research on this new carbon sink has been published in the journal Global Change Biology. Lead author Professor Lloyd Peck says that an estimated equivalent of 12.8 million tons of CO2 are being sucked out of the atmosphere and stored.

As More Ice Melts Potential Significant New Biologic Carbon Sink Created
Professor Peck points out that at present these new sinks are small when compared to all the carbon emissions of the world. Nevertheless, climate models need to take this into account:

It shows nature's ability to thrive in the face of adversity. We need to factor this natural carbon-absorption into our calculations and models to predict future climate change. So far we don't know if we will see more events like this around the rest of Antarctica's coast but it's something we'll be keeping a close eye on.

Elsewhere in the world human activity is undermining the ability of oceans and marine ecosystems to capture and store carbon. At present, there is little change in ice shelves and coastal glaciers away from the Antarctic Peninsula, but if more Antarctic ice is lost as a result of climate change then these new blooms have the potential to be a significant biological sink for carbon.

Ice the Size of Vermont Lost in Past 50 Years
In the past 50 years, melting ice has opened up at least 24,000 square kilometers of ocean in the Antarctic, an area of Vermont, Belize, or Israel. (Choose your reference point...)

The report authors point out that this new carbon sink is the second-largest factor working against climate change so far discovered, behind new forests growing on land in the Arctic.

More info: British Antarctic Survey
map: BAS
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