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Earth Science

Huge Phytoplankton Bloom Found Under Arctic Ice 99

Posted by timothy
from the basis-of-a-new-cocktail dept.
ananyo writes "Researchers have been shocked to find a record-breaking phytoplankton bloom hidden under Arctic ice. The finding is a big surprise — few scientists thought blooms of this size could grow in Arctic waters. The finding implies that the Arctic is much more productive than previously thought — researchers now think some 25% of the Arctic Ocean has conditions conducive to such blooms (abstract). The discovery also helps to explain why Arctic waters have proven such a good carbon dioxide sink."
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Huge Phytoplankton Bloom Found Under Arctic Ice

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  • That would only be true if the plankton were buried and did not rot. Same as trees.

    • More warming means less ice, which should mean more sunlight and more plankton growth, hence more carbon tied up.
      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        More plankton "eat" the carbon from the air..... that is true. But when the plankton die and rot, the carbon is released back into the air. It's a carbon neutral process, not a carbon sink.

        • by khallow (566160) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @06:07PM (#40251045)

          But when the plankton die and rot, the carbon is released back into the air.

          Doesn't always happen, especially on a seafloor. Oil and coal come from organisms that didn't rot.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            "Oil and coal come from organisms that didn't rot."
            I had to read that twice. Of course they rotted.

            Also, they rotted and stayed trapped.

            • by khallow (566160)

              I had to read that twice. Of course they rotted.

              Scientifically, it's called decomposition [wikipedia.org] and it happens in the presence of oxygen and other organisms that reduce the dead organism to basic components. Particularly, with plants it releases carbon dioxide.

              In an environment without oxygen, somewhat different processes happen and you can indeed have carbon trapped for useful periods of time.

        • You're making a false assumption: that the plankton rot when they die. Not everything does. There has to be the right environment for whatever bacteria or biological processes involved in rotting to take place. In many places, the right environment is not there. In the desert, it is too dry. Corpses mummify instead of rot. In peat bogs, there isn't enough oxygen, so things just more or less lie there. In these cases, the desert and the bog are carbon sinks. In the arctic, the ocean water is not terr
      • More warming means less ice, which should mean more sunlight and more plankton growth, hence more carbon tied up.

        There's not much [noaa.gov] evidence of this effect dominating increase due to accelerating fossil fuel use and land use change.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Photosynthesis CO2 + water + sunlight -> glucose + O2

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by v1 (525388)

      That would only be true if the plankton were buried and did not rot. Same as trees.

      Unless you're going nuclear or launching it into space, nothing permanently gets rid of it. Plants just take CO2 and H2O and strip off the O into the air and use the CH for building material and energy storage. It's all going to go back into the pot again eventually no matter what you do with it.

      "Sequestering" carbon in any way is about the same as "squestering" trash by burying it in the dump. Just gets it out of sight fo

      • by khallow (566160) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:18PM (#40250559)

        "Sequestering" carbon in any way is about the same as "squestering" trash by burying it in the dump. Just gets it out of sight for awhile, you gotta think about the future.

        There's a huge difference between having to deal with global warming now (especially the catastrophes claimed by some) than a slightly elevated CO2 a few millennia or longer from now. Getting it out of sight for a while may well be the difference between being a problem now and never being a problem.

        • Never be a problem for YOU.

          • Not really.
            Few sane people would argue that a slightly elevated CO2 count is a problem. Few would argue a highly elevated one isn't a problem.
            The question is where on the scale do we lie?
            If we could spread out what would be a highly elevated CO2 dump out over several thousand years then the short term highly elevated problem becomes a very long term very slightly elevated one and there is no problem for anyone.
            Put it another way, the first cave man to build a fire did not cause global warming. The first ste

          • by khallow (566160)
            Or anyone else either. As long as CO2 levels don't go below or exceed whatever thresholds society decides to set things at, then it doesn't matter if sequestration is temporary in a geological sense.
      • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:24PM (#40250633)

        >>>"Sequestering" carbon in any way is about the same as "squestering" trash by burying it in the dump. Just gets it out of sight for awhile, you gotta think about the future.

        Disagree.
        The carbon was VERY well sequestered for ~700 million years..... until humans came-along and start digging it out of coal mountains/oil wells and burning it. If humans had not done that, the carbon would still be sequestered under the ground and GW not an issue.

      • by symbolset (646467) *
        Subduction takes care of it pretty well. All that marble isn't going to convert back into co2 any time soon.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        If you can converted back into a liquid, you can get it out of the air*. While technically in the environment, being buried thousand of feet underground is a lot better then floating around in the air.

        *no, not all of it. Get back down to a reasonable level.

    • by yuje (1892616) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:14PM (#40250529)

      They DO get buried away for millions of years. Where do you think petroleum and coal come from?

      • Until we dig it out and burn it... ;)

      • Exactly. This is also why we know that the excess carbon in the atmosphere is sourced from fossil fuels- gas and oil. Carbon has 3 sotopes 12, 13 and radioactive 14.Carbon in the atmosphere has all three in a certain percentage. Carbon that has been buried underground for a few million years - in the form of oil- has had all it's radioactive 14 changed to nitrogen. When it's burned again in our cars and smokestacks, the newly released non-14 carbon increases the percentage of isotopes 12 and 13 in the at
        • by mpe (36238)
          This is also why we know that the excess carbon in the atmosphere is sourced from fossil fuels- gas and oil. Carbon has 3 sotopes 12, 13 and radioactive 14.Carbon in the atmosphere has all three in a certain percentage. Carbon that has been buried underground for a few million years - in the form of oil- has had all it's radioactive 14 changed to nitrogen. When it's burned again in our cars and smokestacks, the newly released non-14 carbon increases the percentage of isotopes 12 and 13 in the atmosphere rel
          • Is anyone actually recording the carbon isotope ratios in fossil fuels?

            Yes.

            From:

            http://bgc.mpg.de/service/iso_gas_lab/publications/PG_WB_IJMS.pdf [bgc.mpg.de]

            In contrast, current annual fossil fuel burning amounts to about 6 Gt of carbon. About half of this amount is observed as an increase of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. The other half is sequestered by other compartments. Currently, both the oceans and the terrestrial system show a net uptake of carbon [6]. The oxygen and carbon isotopic compositions of individual components, in particular air-CO2 provide a potentially powe

    • by blibbler (15793) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:17PM (#40250555)

      What typically happens is once the plankton dies, it sinks to the bottom of the sea. If it lands in an anaerobic area (a region of low oxygen, which is not uncommon on the sea floor) then it will not rot. Over time, it could be covered with sediments and blocked off from the rest of the sea. Over the course of millions of years, the dead plankton may be cooked at 70-80 degrees and transform into oil and gas. Once in this liquid or gas form, it can move from this source material. If it is caught in a trap, then it could become an economic oil or gas deposit several dozen million years in the future.

      In contrast, most trees fall and rot on the ground. The amazon rainforest is a big area with lots of trees and plants, but there is also lots of organisms actively decomposing the dead material. Some carbon can get stuck in the ground, but it tends to be much less than the sea.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Good point(s).

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "the dead plankton may be cooked at 70-80 degrees and transform into oil and gas."
        you mean..rot?

        • by aXis100 (690904)

          Rotting tends to mean decomposing by bacterial action - which use the material as a food source immediately and then expel CO2.

          He's talking about thermal depolymerisation without bacteria or oxygen. Because it hasn't oxidised, it can be used as a fuel source later.

    • Um... most plankton get eaten. Then those that eat it get eaten and so on up the food chain. Those that do die uneaten, along with their predators that die, sink to the bottom of the ARCTIC. Stuff doesn't rot down there. It just piles up frozen.
    • A plankton BOOM is a carbon sink, because the plankton mass is growing. Besides that, other people already pointed that some of the mass of dead plankton take a long time off the athmosphe.

  • Hot photos (Score:5, Informative)

    by BadPirate (1572721) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:01PM (#40250377) Homepage

    Okay... so I couldn't visualize a huge phyto-plankton bloom and TFA was no help. Here's something.

    http://spiff.ucsd.edu/chaos.gif [ucsd.edu]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Okay... so I couldn't visualize a huge phyto-plankton bloom and TFA was no help. Here's something.

      http://spiff.ucsd.edu/chaos.gif [ucsd.edu]

      I genuinely feared a resurrection of goatse when contemplating clicking this link...

  • 1. Bloom to record sizes in the Arctic!
    2. Steal the Krabby Patty secret formula!
    3. Rule the world!
    4. Profit!!!

  • It's the cold water that contains the food, not the warm water, so from that perspective this is not odd at all

  • Apparently there is a huge resevoir of Methane under both the polar and south polar icecaps. It's a biological chemical useful for bio-ecosystems. But also as it's released it will reduce global temperatures.

    It's a large part of why it's called "Climate Change", and not "Global Warming".
    • Sayest thou what?!

      Methane is a greenhouse gas - releasing more of it should increase temperatures, not decrease them.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington

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