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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

Iceberg Hotspots

 
     

The news of looming climate change is often dire. Accounts of the impact on wildlife range from the sharp decline in the polar bear population to threats to emperor penguin colonies. But Maria Vernet, a research biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, was part of a scientific team that found climate change may be precipitating new, rich areas of marine life growth.

The team, which also included researchers from the San Diego Supercomputer Center, sampled icebergs in the remote Weddell Sea, an arm of the Southern Atlantic Ocean. They found that free-drifting icebergs, split off from Antarctic ice shelves as a result of global climate change, are creating “hotspots” for ocean life. These floating ice islands—some as large as a dozen miles long and more than 120 feet high—are hosting robust communities of phytoplankton, krill, fish and seabirds.

The icebergs, called “moving estuaries” by one researcher, release key terrestrial nutrients far out to sea. This produces a “halo effect” with increases in sea life more than two miles around the icebergs.


Contributors to Making Waves: Mario Aguilera, '89, Rex Graham, Raymond Hardie, Robert Monroe, Neda Oreizy, '08, Doug Ramsey

RELATED LINKS

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

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Vernet Lab at SIO

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