July 18, 2008

Study: Falling Icebergs Harming Ecosystem

Scientists in Britain have discovered a new global warming threat to marine life in Antarctica -- breakaway icebergs that destroy any life in their path.

Shallow habitats of species such as giant sea spiders, Antarctic worms, sea urchins and corals face growing risk from icebergs as they tear up the sea floor, The Times of London reported Friday.

The findings indicate climate change risks go beyond rising ocean temperatures, the British Antarctic Survey team said. Although near-shore ecosystems routinely take a pounding by icebergs, the destruction rate is rising as a warmer climate shrinks the winter sea ice that otherwise contain the icebergs.

The whole balance of the ecosystem could be affected, with consequences that are very difficult to predict, said Dan Smale, who led the study for the Cambridge institution. The focus of research has all been on rising temperatures, but what has been overlooked is that it isn't just warming of the water that changes the structure of the ecosystem. The distribution of species is likely to be just as important, and that is going to be affected by iceberg (breakaways).

Findings of the five-year study, conducted at South Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula, were published in the journal Science.