Icebergs Revealed to Be Hotbeds of Biological Activity
September 13, 2007 -- Free-floating icebergs are now thought to be biological hot spots, according to a new study published in Science. Specifically, bergs floating in the Weddell Sea hint at surprising chemical and biological possibilities that were not previously considered.
Scientists who studied drifting icebergs during spring in the Southern Hemisphere found high concentrations of krill, chlorophyll, and sea birds around each berg, supporting the idea that free-floating icebergs continually release micronutrients to the surrounding ecosystems and behave much like estuaries, which supply nutrients to surrounding coastal regions.
The team said that as global warming adds more icebergs to the Antarctic waters each year, their estimated scope of environmental influence is likely to become significant, and icebergs and their associated communities could serve as areas of increased production and sequestration of organic carbon to the deep sea.
The National Academies have examined the growing importance of polar science and biology. The National Research Council's Polar Research Board, which serves as the U.S. National Committee for the International Polar Year, recommended that this global scientific effort explore new scientific frontiers and include a variety of activities such as multidisciplinary studies of terrestrial and marine biological communities. In Frontiers in Polar Biology in the Genomics Era, the board said that polar biology research can benefit from advances in genomic technologies and recommended the development of a new initiative in polar genome sciences that emphasizes collaborative, multidisciplinary research to facilitate genome analyses of polar organisms. Another Research Council report, The New Science of Metagenomics: Revealing the Secrets of Our Microbial Planet explores the crucial roles that microbial communities play throughout nature and describes the new approaches that are allowing microbiologists to understand the composition and complex dynamics of these communities.