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Glacial Melting In Antarctica May Be Boon For Penguins

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The melting of the Antarctic glaciers, which is widely attributed to global warming, may not be favorable to humans, but a new study suggests that the phenomenon could be favorable to marine life.

In a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans in July, researchers found that phytoplankton, marine microorganisms that serve as the foundation of the food chain in the ocean, were more likely to thrive with the melting of the continent's ice shelves and ice sheets.

Study researcher Kevin Arrigo, from the Stanford University, and colleagues said that the melting of the ice release large amounts of iron into the ocean and iron happens to be a crucial nutrient needed by phytoplankton to grow.

Since the ice shelves melt at a fast rate and could even melt faster in the future, the study says that the rate of phytoplankton productivity also increases as well and this is good news for a range of life forms that depend on these microorganisms.

The krill, for instance, a very important link in marine food chain, feed on phytoplankton and in turn gets eaten by other organisms in the sea such as fish. Mammals and birds such as penguins and whales then feed on these organisms.

Scientists previously believed that temperature and sunlight drive the growth of phytoplankton but using satellite data, the researchers of the study showed that the amount of water that leaves the melting glaciers in the Antarctic is the biggest contributor to the abundance of phytoplankton in the coastal polynyas.

Polynyas are the areas of open water that is surrounded by sea ice, where most phytoplankton, penguins and seals could be found.

"Sixty percent of the productivity in these polynyas was explained by that one variable, how fast these glaciers are melting," Arrigo said. "That's important because the rate of melting in these glaciers seems to be accelerating."

The newly revealed information about the growth of phytoplankton in polynyas could provide scientists with improved insights into how the marine food web in the Antarctic works and how this could be impacted by climate change.

The study could also shed light on how carbon is stored in the oceans as the research suggests that the phytoplankton in the polynyas could be the reason for the large amounts of carbon dioxide that is pulled from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

The polynyas may be serving as storage sites for the carbon released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

 "These polynyas appear to be disproportionately important, for their size, as sinks of carbon. And the reality is that they really are not included in anyone's carbon budget," Arrigo said.

The melting of the Antarctic glaciers, which is widely attributed to global warming, may not be favorable to humans but a new study suggests that the phenomenon could be favorable to marine life.

In a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans in July, researchers found that phytoplankton, marine microorganisms that serve as the foundation of the food chain in the ocean, were more likely to thrive with the melting of the continent's ice shelves and ice sheets.

Study researcher Kevin Arrigo, from the Stanford University, and colleagues said that the melting of the ice release large amounts of iron into the ocean and iron happens to be a crucial nutrient needed by phytoplankton to grow.

Since the ice shelves melt at a fast rate and could even melt faster in the future, the study says that the rate of phytoplankton productivity also increases as well and this is good news for a range of life forms that depend on these microorganisms.

The krill, for instance, a very important link in marine food chain, feed on phytoplankton and in turn gets eaten by other organisms in the sea such as fish. Mammals and birds such as penguins and whales then feed on these organisms.

Scientists previously believed that temperature and sunlight drive the growth of phytoplankton but using satellite data, the researchers of the study showed that the amount of water that leaves the melting glaciers in the Antarctic is the biggest contributor to the abundance of phytoplankton in the coastal polynyas.

Polynyas are the areas of open water that is surrounded by sea ice, where most phytoplankton, penguins and seals could be found.

"Sixty percent of the productivity in these polynyas was explained by that one variable, how fast these glaciers are melting," Arrigo said. "That's important because the rate of melting in these glaciers seems to be accelerating."

The newly revealed information about the growth of phytoplankton in polynyas could provide scientists with improved insights into how the marine food web in the Antarctic works and how this could be impacted by climate change.

The study could also shed light on how carbon is stored in the oceans as the research suggests that the phytoplankton in the polynyas could be the reason for the large amounts of carbon dioxide that is pulled from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

The polynyas may be serving as storage sites for the carbon released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

 "These polynyas appear to be disproportionately important, for their size, as sinks of carbon. And the reality is that they really are not included in anyone's carbon budget," Arrigo said.

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