Southern Ocean carbon cycle may be key climate driver

‘Changes in ocean carbon storage are important drivers of natural atmospheric CO2 variations …’

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Melting icebergs along the shore of Dundee Island, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Southern Ocean’s carbon cycle may be a huge driver of climatic shifts between ice ages and interglacial periods, according to new research published last week in Nature.

The study shows that carbon stored in an isolated reservoir deep in the Southern Ocean re-connected with the atmosphere, driving a rise in atmospheric CO2 and an increase in global temperatures that may have helped end the global ice ages. Continue reading

Sonar study finds blue whale ‘hotspots’ in Southern Ocean

Whale populations around Antarctica still rebounding from industrial whaling era

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New sonar techniques could help pinpoint blue whale numbers in the Southern Ocean and identify important habitat. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — After a century of relentless industrial whaling, blue whales were nearly extirpated from the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, The giant marine mammal is now making a comeback, and resurgent whale numbers could affect other parts of the ecosystem.

Other recent research has shown blue whale numbers rebounding off the coast of California, and biologists with the British Antarctic Survey recently reported that satellite technology could also help count whales.

But for the Southern Ocean, scientists don’t have a good grasp of population numbers. Between 1978 and 2010 blue whale surveys recorded only 216 visual encounters, so new research by Australian scientists may help identify important habitat areas and pinpoint numbers, which helps inform conservation strategies, with several large marine protected areas in the works for Antarctica. Continue reading

Climate: Robotic gliders probe secrets of Southern Ocean

Detailed measurements to help pinpoint rate of ice shelf melt

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Melting Antarctica ice shelves are raising global sea level. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Southern Ocean, surrounding Antarctica, is mostly separated from the rest of the world’s oceans by a sharp temperature boundary and swift currents. But the border between the different masses of water is regularly blurred by giant swirls of water that may be transporting warmer water to the edge of the frozen continent.

Knowing how that process works could help scientists understand how fast Antarctic ice shelves will melt and raise global sea level, according to Caltech scientists who used robotic gliders to track the movement of water in the region. Continue reading

Climate: Southern Ocean layering could lead to big Antarctica meltdown along with surge in sea level rise

‘The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,000 years ago’

The ice fields of Antarctica

The ice fields of Antarctica. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A stratification of the ocean around Antarctica could lead to more rapid melting of ice sheets, triggering a sudden surge in sea level rise. That last time that happened was well before the global warming era, about 14,000 years ago, but scientists are now seeing signs of a similar pattern.

A new study found that in the past, when ocean temperatures around Antarctica became more layered, with a warm layer of water below a cold surface layer,  ice sheets and glaciers melted much faster than when the cool and warm layers mixed more easily. This defined layering of temperatures is exactly what is happening now around the Antarctic.

“The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land-based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface,” said ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science researcher Prof Matthew England, an author of the paper, published in Nature Communications.

Continue reading

How does the Southern Ocean regulate global climate?

Major research project to examine carbon cycling, circulation dynamics

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A new research project will help explain how the Southern Ocean helps regulate the global climate. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Even though it’s eparated from the rest of the world’s oceans by a strong circulation of currents and a distinct temperature gradient, the Southern Ocean is known to be a key driver of global climate and carbon cycles.

Climate researchers and oceanographers may soon know a lot more about the enigmatic ocean as they deploy hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica in a six-year, $21 million research project aimed at understanding ocean dynamics, chemistry and carbon cycling. The new instruments will increase the flow of Southern Ocean data 30-fold. Continue reading

Climate: Does the Southern Ocean hold the ice age key?

Abysmal waters play huge role in global carbon cycles

The water in the Antarctic Sound can be smooth as glass, and sometimes look thick and oily, probably because it's so cold. Click on the photo to learn about some of the environmental issues in Antarctica.

The water in the Antarctic Sound can be smooth as glass. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The remote Southern Ocean, encircling Antarctica, may be a key driver of the carbon cycle, inhaling and exhaling enough carbon to help shift the global climate in and out of ice ages.

For decades, scientists have been trying to figure out what exactly, along with the known wobbles in Earth’s journey around the sun, may cause the huge shifts that lead to vast ice sheets covering many of the planet’s land masses. Continue reading

Scientist find source of mysterious Southern Ocean sound

New data could help minke whale conservation efforts

A group of Antarctic minke whales. Photo courtesy Ari S. Friedlaender, Oregon State University

A group of Antarctic minke whales, which have been identified as the source of a mysterious sound in the Southern Ocean. Photo courtesy Ari S. Friedlaender, Oregon State University.

Staff Report

FRISCO — If you’ve ever heard mysterious sounds that you can’t identify, you’re not alone. For decades, researchers have tried to trace the source of a unique rhythmic sound in the remote Southern Ocean that’s often been recorded, but never definitively pinpointed — until now.

This week, scientists with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center said the sound is generated by the Antarctic Minke whale, the smallest of the “great whales” or rorquals, a group that includes the blue whale, Bryde’s whale, and humpback, fin, and sei whales. Rorqual whales are relatively streamlined in appearance, have pointed heads and, with the exception of humpback whales, small pointed fins. Continue reading

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