Friday, February 25, 2011

Bloody bryozoans! Stealing our carbon dioxide!

Mr Bolt reports:

By studying collections of a marine bryozoan that date back to a famous 1901 expedition to the South Pole, researchers have found that those organisms were growing steadily up until 1990, when their growth more than doubled. The data, reported in the February 22 issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, provide the highest-latitude record of a century of growth and some of the first evidence that polar carbon sinks may be increasing.

The bryozoan in question, known as Cellarinella nutti, is a filter-feeding invertebrate that looks like branching twigs. ...

“This is one of the few pieces of evidence that life in Antarctica has recently changed drastically,” said David Barnes of the British Antarctic Survey. ”These animals are taking more carbon dioxide out of circulation and locking it away on the seabed.”

The more rapid growth of C. nutti reflects a coincident increase in the regional production of the phytoplankton that the bryozoan eats. Those algae rely on carbon dioxide dissolved into the seawater for their sustenance. The carbon in the algae is taken up by C. nutti, where it is incorporated into their skeleton and other tissues. As the animals grow, portions of it break off and are buried in the seabed. “Thus, the amount of carbon being buried on the seabed is increasing – whilst globally we are becoming more aware of the need to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Barnes said.

The important point here is uncertainty.

While the UN and the IPCC assume that climate feedbacks are positive, ie that the responses within the climate system to increasing carbon dioxide will have the net effect of making any warming worse, the reality is that we just don't know if this is true or not, and here we have an example where the system changes to possibly mitigate against any warming effect.

However, a knowledge of geological history should have prepared people for this. We know that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been greater in the past without causing the kind of doomsday outcomes the Greens keep droning on and on about, so we should expect that the dynamic responses of the system will probably tend towards returning it to a reasonable equilibrium.

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