Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Marine animals suggest evidence for a trans-Antarctic seaway

31.08.2010
A tiny marine filter-feeder, that anchors itself to the sea bed, offers new clues to scientists studying the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet – a region that is thought to be vulnerable to collapse(1).

As part of a study for the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML), scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) analysed sea-bed colonies of bryozoans from coastal and deep sea regions around the continent and from further afield.

They found striking similarities in particular species of bryozoans living on the continental shelves of two seas - the Ross and Weddell - that are around 1,500 miles apart and separated by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

This new finding, published this month in the journal Global Change Biology, leads the science team to conclude that these animals could have spread across both seas only by means of a trans-Antarctic seaway through what is now a 2 km solid layer of ice. They suggest also that this seaway opened up during a recent interglacial (warm period between ice ages) perhaps as recently as 125,000 years ago when sea level was about 5 metres higher than today.

While some geological evidence suggests that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapsed at least once in the last million years, scientists are keen to determine the frequency of collapse and to understand the processes and connections between warm periods and deglaciation events. Elsewhere around Antarctica the marine animals that could help scientists estimate the date when West Antarctica was ice free, were obliterated during ice ages by advancing glaciers that bulldozed their fossil remains off the continental shelf.

This new biological evidence contributes to glaciological investigations focused on the future stability of the WAIS, which may have a major impact on the rate of sea level rise in the coming centuries. Scientists estimate that a complete collapse of the WAIS would raise global sea level by around 3.3 m to 5 m.

Lead author of the paper Dr David Barnes of British Antarctic Survey said,

"The West Antarctic Ice Sheet can be considered the Achilles heel of Antarctica and because any collapse will have implications for future sea level rise it's important that scientists get a better understanding of big deglaciation events. This biological evidence is one of the novel ways that we look for clues that help us reconstruct Antarctica's ice sheet history.

"Our new research provides compelling evidence that a seaway stretching across West Antarctica could have opened up only if the ice sheet had collapsed in the past.

"When we found groups of strikingly similar bryozoans hundreds of miles apart we knew we were onto something very interesting. Perhaps these species had survived the last ice age whereas in all other regions of Antarctica they were wiped out. We know that after the last ice age groups of bryozoans dispersed freely between many of the regions we studied. But because the larvae of these animals sink and this stage of their life is short – and the adult form anchors itself to the seabed – it's very unlikely that they would have dispersed the long distances carried by ocean currents. For the bryozoans on both the Weddell and Ross sea continental shelves to be more similar to one another than to any of those found in the waters in between is striking indeed. Our conclusion is that the colonisation of both these regions is a signal that both seas were connected by a trans-Antarctic seaway in the recent past."

Issued by the BAS Press Office:

Heather Martin, Tel: +44 (0)1223 221414; mobile: 07740 822229; email: hert@bas.ac.uk

Linda Capper, Tel: +44 (0)1223 221448; mobile: 07714 233744; email: lmca@bas.ac.uk

Scientist contact details:

Dr David Barnes, Tel: +44 (0)1223 221613; Mobile: 07736 921 693; email: dkab@bas.ac.uk

Stunning broadcast-quality footage and stills of Antarctica, along with a copy of the full Global Change Biology paper are available at: ftp://ftp.nerc-bas.ac.uk/pub/photo/DavidBarnes/

Images used should be credited to British Antarctic Survey

Global Change Biology paper: Faunal evidence for a late quaternary trans-Antarctic seaway by David K A Barnes and Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand - see early view online version at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02198.x/full

Notes for editors:

Bryozoans (aquatic animals sometimes referred to as moss animals) feed on microorganisms suspended in the water column. Their larvae are benthic and short-lived but this is the dispersal stage - as adults they anchor themselves to the seabed. Many of the 500 species around Antarctica are restricted to shallows and particular continental shelves.

Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) is the International Polar Year 2007-08 component of the Census of Marine Life - a global network of researchers in more than 80 nations engaged in a 10-year scientific initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans. The world's first comprehensive Census of Marine Life - past, present, and future - will be released in 2010.

1 The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is considered to be most vulnerable to global change. It has been suggested that the WAIS may be prone to collapse under warmer climatic conditions, which could raise global sea level by 3.3-5 metres. Some scenarios predict a collapse of the WAIS within the coming centuries, and others suggest a collapse within the next 4,000 - 7,000 years. Some geological data and ice sheet models suggest that the WAIS may have disintegrated at least once during the last million years, possibly as recently as 125,000 years ago. So far, geological data has not provided clear evidence for a collapse as recently as this. Scientists recognise the urgency in improving their understanding of this region of the Earth.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS), a component of the Natural Environment Research Council, delivers world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that underpins a productive economy and contributes to a sustainable world. Its numerous national and international collaborations, leadership role in Antarctic affairs and excellent infrastructure help ensure that the UK maintains a world leading position. BAS has over 450 staff and operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica.

Heather Martin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bas.ac.uk

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht A new indicator for marine ecosystem changes: the diatom/dinoflagellate index
21.08.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

nachricht Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nagoya physicists resolve long-standing mystery of structure-less transition

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Chronic stress induces fatal organ dysfunctions via a new neural circuit

21.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Scientists from the MSU studied new liquid-crystalline photochrom

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>