Icebergs are hotspots of life


Summary

Global warming has led to an increase in the number of icebergs breaking away from the Antarctic in recent years, and a team of researchers set out to study the impact the giant ice chunks were having on the environment.

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It turns out the melting ice also dumps particles scraped off Antarctica into the ocean, providing a pool of nutrients that feed plankton and tiny shrimp-like creatures known as krill.

The researchers led by Kenneth Smith, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, found an increase in life forms surrounding a pair of icebergs they studied.

The abundance extended nearly four kilometres away from the drifting ice, they report on the journal Science.

Oases

"Just as water-holes become "hotspots" in the desert, drifting icebergs are like oases in Antarctic's ocean," helping promote life, said Russell Hopcroft of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Mr Smith said he was surprised at the amount of sea life surrounding the icebergs, though "there had been anecdotal observations in the past of increased seabird abundance around icebergs."

By promoting life surrounding them, the icebergs also may have an impact on reducing the excess carbon in the atmosphere.

Walker Smith of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary, said the study "confirms what has been known in a fragmentary sense."

"What is novel about the study is the use of radium isotopes to establish clearly the influence of" the material in the water and estimating the area it influenced, said Mr Smith, who was also not part of the research team.


Global warming has led to an increase in the number of icebergs breaking away from the Antarctic in recent years, and a team of researchers set out to study the impact the giant ice chunks were having on the environment.

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It turns out the melting ice also dumps particles scraped off Antarctica into the ocean, providing a pool of nutrients that feed plankton and tiny shrimp-like creatures known as krill.

The researchers led by Kenneth Smith, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, found an increase in life forms surrounding a pair of icebergs they studied.

The abundance extended nearly four kilometres away from the drifting ice, they report on the journal Science.

Oases

"Just as water-holes become "hotspots" in the desert, drifting icebergs are like oases in Antarctic's ocean," helping promote life, said Russell Hopcroft of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Mr Smith said he was surprised at the amount of sea life surrounding the icebergs, though "there had been anecdotal observations in the past of increased seabird abundance around icebergs."

By promoting life surrounding them, the icebergs also may have an impact on reducing the excess carbon in the atmosphere.

Walker Smith of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary, said the study "confirms what has been known in a fragmentary sense."

"What is novel about the study is the use of radium isotopes to establish clearly the influence of" the material in the water and estimating the area it influenced, said Mr Smith, who was also not part of the research team.