Melting glaciers have big carbon impact, study shows

Study: Melting glaciers have big carbon impact
Scientists have done field work in Tibet and Alaska, among other places as part of this study. Credit: Robert Spencer/Florida State

As the Earth warms and glaciers all over the world begin to melt, researchers and public policy experts have focused largely on how all of that extra water will contribute to sea level rise.

But another impact lurking in that inevitable scenario is carbon.

More specifically, what happens to all of the found in those when they melt?

That's the focus of a new paper by a research team that includes Florida State University assistant professor Robert Spencer. The study, published in Nature Geoscience, is the first global estimate by scientists at what happens when major ice sheets break down.

"This is the first attempt to figure out how much organic carbon is in glaciers and how much will be released when they melt," Spencer said. "It could change the whole food web. We do not know how different ecological systems will react to a new influx of carbon."

Glaciers and ice sheets contain about 70 percent of the Earth's freshwater and ongoing melting is a major contributor to . But, glaciers also store organic carbon derived from both primary production on the glaciers and deposition of materials such as soot or other fossil fuel combustion byproducts.

Spencer, along with colleagues from Alaska and Switzerland, studied measurements from ice sheets in globally, the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheet to measure the total amount of organic carbon stored in the global ice reservoir.

It's a lot.

Specifically, as glaciers melt, the amount of organic carbon exported in glacier outflow will increase 50 percent over the next 35 years. To put that in context, that's about the amount of organic carbon in half of the Mississippi River being added each year to the ocean from .

"This research makes it clear that glaciers represent a substantial reservoir of organic carbon," said Eran Hood, the lead author on the paper and a scientist with the University of Alaska Southeast. "As a result, the loss of glacier mass worldwide, along with the corresponding release of carbon, will affect high-latitude marine ecosystems, particularly those surrounding the major ice sheets that now receive fairly limited land-to-ocean fluxes of organic carbon."

Spencer said he and his colleagues are continuing on this line of research and will do additional studies to try to determine exactly what the impact will be when that carbon is released into existing bodies of water.

"The thing people have to think about is what this means for the Earth," Spencer said. "We know we're losing glaciers, but what does that mean for marine life, fisheries, things downstream that we care about? There's a whole host of issues besides the water issue."


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Glaciers: Fossil fuel signature found in Alaskan ice

More information: Storage and release of organic carbon from glaciers and ice sheets , DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2331
Journal information: Nature Geoscience

Citation: Melting glaciers have big carbon impact, study shows (2015, January 19) retrieved 18 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-01-glaciers-big-carbon-impact.html
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Jan 19, 2015
Deniers do not care. Their motivation is politics.

It is up to us to reverse this trend of warming.

Jan 19, 2015
gkam, you worried about the climate? Paint your roof white. That is the extent of your usefulness in effecting the climate. 2.5 billion Indians and Chinese buring soft coal guarantee it to be so.

Jan 19, 2015
Uh, .. thanks for your technical advice.

We have a job of education ahead of us.

Jan 19, 2015
The carbon dioxide is feeding the plants. Now the glaciers will be feeding the fish. Only by promoting more global warming will we have enough food to eat in the future. Do you want to be starving and cold, or warm and well fed?

Jan 19, 2015
I'm selling sky lifts to those that believe it's falling!

Jan 19, 2015
"Studys" show whatever you want them to show

Jan 19, 2015
gkam,

In order to deny something, that "something" must exist, be factual. Shyster pseudo science studies come from academic, alarmist, alchemists, hands out almsbegging for more study grants. Pure fictional findings.

Jan 19, 2015
Wow, we have quite the group of denialist dumdums polluting this thread! They must have let the loonies out to play. You're going to be in trouble for touching that computer!

Jan 19, 2015
More Government propaganda....
Whoopee....

Jan 20, 2015
The carbon dioxide is feeding the plants. Now the glaciers will be feeding the fish. Only by promoting more global warming will we have enough food to eat in the future. Do you want to be starving and cold, or warm and well fed?

Yes the CO2 on my property does feed my plants, and they feed me. The plants also heat my home in the winter and grow back the rest of the year. The net effect is that the carbon I purchased when I bought my property remains the same. I don't need my neighbors dumping their excess CO2 onto my property. This is a violation of my property rights. By doing so, they have "socialized" their energy industry by forcing me to store their waste carbon on my property.

Jan 24, 2015
Alkalinity is the buffering capacity of a water body. It measures the ability of water bodies to neutralize acids and bases thereby maintaining a fairly stable pH. Water that is a good buffer contains compounds, such as bicarbonates, carbonates, and hydroxides, which combine with H+ ions from the water thereby raising the pH (more basic) of the water. Without this buffering capacity, any acid added to a lake would immediately change its pH. Bicarbonate ions are the most common sources of alkalinity. Almost all natural supplies have a measurable amount of this ion, ranging from 0 to about 50 gpg. I do not think melting glaciers will have any effect on the alkalinity of ocean water.

Jan 24, 2015
It's exposing the carbon, etc... in the glaciers as they melt.... Yea that makes sense but it's going to expose a whole lot more when they are gone. How will that change the situation?

Jan 25, 2015
Alkalinity is the buffering capacity of a water body. It measures the ability of water bodies to neutralize acids and bases thereby maintaining a fairly stable pH. Water that is a good buffer contains compounds, such as bicarbonates, carbonates, and hydroxides, which combine with H+ ions from the water thereby raising the pH (more basic) of the water. Without this buffering capacity, any acid added to a lake would immediately change its pH. Bicarbonate ions are the most common sources of alkalinity. Almost all natural supplies have a measurable amount of this ion, ranging from 0 to about 50 gpg. I do not think melting glaciers will have any effect on the alkalinity of ocean water.


Good point,mreda14.

However the concerns raised in this article are the effects of organic carbon -not "bicarbonates, carbonates, and hydroxides".

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