Ice loss ‘helps offset global warming’
Global warming has been blamed for the alarming loss of ice shelves in Antarctica, but a new study says newly-exposed areas of sea are now soaking up some of the carbon gas that causes the problem.
Scientists led by Lloyd Peck of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said that atmospheric and ocean carbon is being gobbled up by microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton, which float near the surface.
The phenomenon, known as a carbon sink, has been spotted in areas of open water exposed by the recent, rapid melting of several ice shelves – vast floating plaques of ice attached to the shore of the Antarctic peninsula.
Their estimate, based on images of green algal blooms, is that the phytoplankton absorbs 3.5 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 12.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas. The tally is minute compared to the quantities of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation, which amounted to 8.7 billion tonnes of carbon in 2007.
But, said Mr Peck, « 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, » he said.