Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Early initiation of Arctic sea-ice formation

17.07.2009
Arctic sea-ice formation

Significant sea ice formation occurred in the Arctic earlier than previously thought is the conclusion of a study published this week in Nature.

"The results are also especially exciting because they suggest that sea ice formed in the Arctic before it did in Antarctica, which goes against scientific expectation," says scientific team member Dr Richard Pearce of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS).

The international collaborative research team led by Dr Catherine Stickley and Professor Nalân Koç of the University of Tromsø and Norwegian Polar Insitute (Tromsø) analysed oceanic sediment cores collected from the Lomonosov ridge in the central Arctic by Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 302 ('ACEX'). Previous analyses of cores drilled in this region revealed ice-rafted debris dating back to the middle Eocene epoch, prompting suggestions that ice appeared in the Arctic about 46 million years ago. But records of ice-rafted debris do not differentiate sea ice from glacial (continental) ice, which is important because sea ice influences climate by directly affecting ocean–atmosphere exchanges, whereas land-based ice affects sea level and consequently ocean acidity.

Instead of focusing solely on ice-rafted debris, Stickley and her colleagues also garner information about ancient climate by analysing fossilised remains of tiny single-celled plants called diatoms in the sediment cores. Today, different living diatom species are adapted to particular environmental conditions. Assuming that this was also true in the past – for which there is ample evidence – the presence of particular diatom species in sediment cores is diagnostic of conditions prevailing at the time.

Coincident with ice-rafted debris in the cores, the researchers found high abundances of delicately silicified diatoms belong to the genus Synedropsis. "We were astonished by this", said team member Richard Pearce of NOCS, who imaged the samples using a scanning electron microscope at the NOCS: "Weakly silicified diatoms are preserved only under exceptional circumstances, so to find fossilised Synedropsis species so well preserved and in such abundance is truly remarkable." In fact, the ACEX Synedropsis species represent the earliest known fossil record of sea-ice diatoms.

The researchers attribute the presence of Synedropsis fossils in these sediments to the presence of sea ice, and silica-enriched waters that favour their preservation. They propose that, like Synedropsis species found in polar regions today, the ACEX species were also sea-ice specialists uniquely adapted for surviving the lengthy polar darkness and freezing temperatures. "These diatoms provide the most compelling evidence for ancient sea ice, as they rely on this medium for their survival," said Catherine Stickley. Moreover, their analysis of quartz grain textural characteristics further supports sea ice as the dominant transporter of ice-rafted debris at this time.

"It is likely that sea ice formed in autumn and winter and melted in spring and summer, as seasonal sea ice does today," they say. Synedropsis species probably over-wintered within the sea ice and then bloomed there in the spring when there was enough sunlight. They would have been released into stratified surface waters as the ice melted, rapidly sinking to the sea bottom as aggregates, leaving other diatom species to dominate summer production. And, indeed, these seasonal changes can be discerned in the sediment cores.

The researchers conclude from their analysis, which cover a two-million year period, that episodic sea ice formation in marginal shelf areas of the Arctic started around 47.5 million years ago, about a million years earlier than previous estimates based on ice-raft debris evidence only. This appears to have been followed half a million years later by the onset of seasonal sea-ice formation in offshore areas of the central Arctic, and about 24 million years before major ice-sheet expansion in the region.

The findings have potentially important implications for climate. Spring sea ice and summer cloud formation would have reduced oceanic heat loss to the atmosphere and increased the amount of solar radiation reflected back out into space. "A stable sea-ice regime also suggests the possibility of concomitant glacial ice," say the researchers, and indeed they find some evidence for the presence of small isolated glaciers at the time.

Furthermore, their data indicate that sea ice formed in the Arctic before it did in Antarctica. Atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide were declining in the middle Eocene, one of the reasons postulated in causing the Earth to cool. However, the new findings imply that the threshold for sea-ice formation was first crossed in the Arctic, which, say the authors, is "a hypothesis opposite to that modelled for glacial ice, whereby Antarctica is shown to glaciate much earlier (that is, at higher levels of carbon dioxide) than circum-Arctic continents."

Contact information:

For more information contact the NOCS Press Officer Rory Howlett on +44 (0)23 8059 8490 Email: r.howlett@noc.soton.ac.uk

Images are available from the NOCS Press Office (Tel. 02380596100).

Author contacts:

Dr Richard Pearce: Telephone +00 44 23 8059 6477 or +00 44 23 8059 6518; Email r.pearce@noc.soton.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

The paper, 'Evidence for middle Eocene Arctic sea ice from diatoms and ice-rafted debris', is published by Nature on 16 July 2009.

This research used samples and data provided by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and was supported by VISTA (Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and StatoilHydro) and the Research Council of Norway.

The authors are: Catherine Stickley (University of Tromsø and Norwegian Polar Institute), Kristen St John (James Madison University), Nalân Koc (U. Tromsø and NPI),, Richard Jordan (Yamagata University), Sandra Passchier (Montclair State University), Richard Pearce (National Oceanography Centre, Southampton) & Lance Kearns (JMU).

The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton is the UK's focus for ocean science. It is one of the world's leading institutions devoted to research, teaching and technology development in ocean and earth science. Over 500 research scientists, lecturing, support and seagoing staff are based at the centre's purpose-built waterside campus in Southampton along with over 700 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton is a collaboration between the University of Southampton and the Natural Environment Research Council. The NERC royal research ships RRS James Cook and RRS Discovery are based at NOCS as is the National Marine Equipment Pool which includes Autosub and Isis, two of the world's deepest diving research vehicles.

Dr. Rory Howlett | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.soton.ac.uk

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling

07.12.2016 | Life Sciences

How to turn white fat brown

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>