Climate change in Antarctica can speed up global climate change

Friday, January 29, 2021

Marine biologists at UGent and international colleagues discovered that melting glaciers in Antarctic affect the CO2-concentrations in the atmosphere.

The researchers published a paper in Nature Communications Biology in which they described how melting glaciers on the west Antarctic Peninsula disturb life at the seafloor.

The west Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is one of the three fastest warming regions on Earth. Through atmospheric and ocean warming, 87% of all glaciers fringing the WAP coast are in retreat. It was already known that the fine sediment particles in the meltwater plumes decrease light availability and complicate as such photosynthesis of phytoplankton. Now, the researchers demonstrated that the sediment particles bury the microalgae living at the seafloor, making them less productive. This results in a lower uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The communities living at the seafloor (bivalves, worms, sponges, tunicates, microbial communities and microalgae) are therefore more a source of CO2 than a sink. This CO2 finally ends up in the atmosphere and contributes to further climate warming.

In the next decennia, climate change will drive further melting of the glaciers along the WAP. This research shows that the consequences of melting glaciers can enhance global climate change.

This research is the result of a fruitful collaboration with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Universities of Bremen, Buenos Aires, Gothenburg, and Ushuaïa, the Argentine Antarctic Institute, CONICET and the Centro Austral de Investigaciones Cientificas, Ushuaïa.

Publication

Glacial melt disturbance shifts community metabolism of an Antarctic seafloor ecosystem from net autotrophy to heterotrophy

Link to publication in Communications Biology:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-021-01673-6

Full reference:

Braeckman, U., Pasotti, F., Hoffmann, R. et al. Glacial melt disturbance shifts community metabolism of an Antarctic seafloor ecosystem from net autotrophy to heterotrophy. Commun Biol 4, 148 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-021-01673-6