Climate Science

The Iceberg Cometh

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Science  26 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5568, pp. 619
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5568.619c

Large icebergs such as B-15 (295 km long and 40 km wide), which calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000, can change how rapidly pack ice is blown offshore. Not much is known, however, about the effects such events might have on the ecology of the surface waters. Arrigo et al. employ satellite imagery to document the potential for large icebergs to alter the dynamics of marine life. The B-15 iceberg restricted the northwestward drift of pack ice in the southwestern Ross Sea, one of the most biologically productive regions in the Antarctic, thereby reducing both the area of open sea available for phytoplankton growth and the length of the growing season. Productivity fell more than 40% below normal, changing the feeding behavior of upper trophic level organisms such as the Adélie penguins that nest at Ross Island. If climate warming were to decrease the stability of Antarctic ice shelves, leading to more frequent calving of large icebergs, the ecology of wide areas of the coastal ecosystem could be affected.—HJS

Geophys. Res. Lett.29, 10.1029/2001GL014160 (2002).

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