Captain Scott's century-old collections suggests marine life is capturing more carbon

Feb 22, 2011

Tiny Antarctic marine creatures collected 100 years ago by Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott give new clues about polar environmental change. By comparing present-day bryozoans – a sea-bed filter-feeding animal that looks like branching twigs – with specimens from Scott's expeditions scientists have found the first conclusive evidence of increased carbon uptake and storage by Antarctic marine life.

Reporting this week in the journal Current Biology an international team of scientists explain how they examined annual growth bands in skeletons of specimens of bryozoans (Cellarinella nutti) collected from Antarctica's Ross Sea during the Census of Antarctic . When compared with museum collections in the UK, US and New Zealand - including specimens from Scott's expeditions – they found that since 1990 bryozoans grew more rapidly than at any time before. The most likely explanation is greater availability of food (phytoplankton). The findings suggest that this new growth is an important mechanism for transferring carbon into the sea bed.

Lead author, Dr Dave Barnes, of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says,

"For the first time we've been able to use the longest record of animal growth as evidence of rapid recent change to life on the seabed. Scott's biological collections are considerable in quality and quantity and will continue to become even more valuable for determining how life responds to change across time. Few biological studies in Antarctica go back more than 30 years, so these data are invaluable and highlight the importance of long-term monitoring."

The spurt in growth means that animals reach the size earlier at which ocean currents snap them off. As the animals topple over they bury carbon, therefore increasing the seabed's potential as a carbon sink.

Explore further: NASA's HS3 looks Hurricane Edouard in the eye

More information: Scott's collections help reveal accelerating marine life growth in Antarctica by David A. Barnes, Piotr Kuklinski, Jennifer A. Jackson, Geoff W. Keel, Simon A. Morley and Judith E. Winston is published in Current Biology on 22 February 2011.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

First comprehensive 'inventory' of life in Antarctica

Dec 01, 2008

The first comprehensive "inventory" of sea and land animals around a group of Antarctic islands reveals a region that is rich in biodiversity and has more species than the Galapagos. The study provides an important benchmark ...

Antarctic krill provide carbon sink in Southern Ocean

Feb 06, 2006

New research on Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a shrimp-like animal at the heart of the Southern Ocean food chain, reveals behaviour that shows that they absorb and transfer more carbon from the Earth’s surface than ...

Recommended for you

NASA's HS3 looks Hurricane Edouard in the eye

11 hours ago

NASA and NOAA scientists participating in NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storms Sentinel (HS3) mission used their expert skills, combined with a bit of serendipity on Sept. 17, 2014, to guide the remotely piloted ...

Tropical Storm Rachel dwarfed by developing system 90E

15 hours ago

Tropical Storm Rachel is spinning down west of Mexico's Baja California, and another tropical low pressure area developing off the coast of southwestern Mexico dwarfs the tropical storm. NOAA's GOES-West ...

NASA ocean data shows 'climate dance' of plankton

19 hours ago

The greens and blues of the ocean color from NASA satellite data have provided new insights into how climate and ecosystem processes affect the growth cycles of phytoplankton—microscopic aquatic plants ...

Glaciers in the grand canyon of Mars?

20 hours ago

For decades, planetary geologists have speculated that glaciers might once have crept through Valles Marineris, the 2000-mile-long chasm that constitutes the Grand Canyon of Mars. Using satellite images, ...

NASA support key to glacier mapping efforts

20 hours ago

Thanks in part to support from NASA and the National Science Foundation, scientists have produced the first-ever detailed maps of bedrock beneath glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. This new data will help ...

User comments : 0