Glacier retreat in Antarctic opens up new carbon sink



This remarkable colonisation is having a beneficial impact on climate change. As the blooms die, phytoplankton sinks to the sea-bed where it can store carbon for millennia. Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) estimate that this new natural 'sink' is taking an estimated 3.5 million tonnes of carbon from the ocean and atmosphere each year. Lloyd Peck, professor from BAS, who led their study, says: "Although this is a small amount of carbon compared to global emissions of greenhouse gases... it is nevertheless an important discovery.

"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." Peck and his colleagues compared records of coastal glacial retreat with records of the amount of chlorophyll (green plant pigment essential for photosynthesis) in the ocean. They found that over the past 50 years, melting ice has opened up at least 24,000 sq km of new open water (as big as Wales) - and this has been colonised by carbon-absorbing phytoplankton, said a BAS release. The study authors said this new bloom is the second largest factor acting against climate change so far discovered on earth (the largest is new forest growth on land in the Arctic). These findings were published this week in Global Change Biology.

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