Magazine article Geographical

Antarctic Ice Loss Creates New Carbon Sink

Magazine article Geographical

Antarctic Ice Loss Creates New Carbon Sink

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THE LOSS of the Antarctic ice is having an unforeseen environmental benefit: allowing phytoplankton to thrive in the open water and store millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to research by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

Over the past 50 years, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by about 3 [degrees]C, and the melting ice has created huge areas of open water that have been colonised by phytoplankton--tiny plants that form the basis of the ocean food chain. These organisms absorb dissolved C[O.sub.2] for use in photosynthesis, and are so abundant that they account for half of all the oxygen produced by plants on Earth. When they die, they drop to the seabed and form 'mats' that are buried under sediment, potentially locking up carbon for millions of years.

The BAS scientists compared records of glacial retreat around the coast of the peninsula with the amount of chlorophyll--the green pigment that is essential for photosynthesis--in the ocean. …

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