Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Taking Carbon Down

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Taking Carbon Down

Article excerpt

IMAGINE PARACHUTING crustaceans. Millions and millions of them. This is what scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and the Centre for Coastal Studies of the University of Hull illustrated in their recent study about krill's effects on carbon sequestration.

Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba)--those small crustaceans that flood the Southern Ocean--have recently been recognized as a major source of carbon sinks. Scientists have known for years that krill migrate daily from the surface of the seas to the ocean's depths, but how deep they dove and how much carbon they carried with them was unknown until now.

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Each night, krill feed on phytoplankton, algae that absorb carbon through photosynthesis. As the krill dine on the phytoplankton, the carbon is passed on to them through the food chain. Bellies full, the krill fan out their legs and parachute nearly 50 metres down through the open ocean in a vertical migration, excreting waste along the way. "The waste sinks to the ocean bottom where it gets locked up in sediment," a process known as carbon sequestration, says Dr. Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey. These dives are likely an attempt to avoid the hunting whales, seals and penguins above.

With 50 to 150 million tonnes of Antarctic krill making this migration approximately three times each night, 0.02 metric gigatons of carbon per year--"an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 million cars," says Tarling--is transported from earth's surface to the ocean floor, an action that helps alleviate global climate change by decreasing the atmosphere's harmful overabundance of carbon. …

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