Free Drifting Icebergs: Influence of Floating Islands on Pelagic Ecosystems in the Weddell Sea.
This project seeks to examine the importance of icebergs to the pelagic ecosystem of the North-West Weddell Sea. Atmospheric warming has been associated with retreating glaciers and the increasing prevalence of icebergs in the Southern Ocean over the last decade. The highest concentration of icebergs occurs in the NW Weddell Sea, where they drift in a clockwise pattern to the northeast, following the contours of the Antarctic Peninsula through an area dubbed "Iceberg Alley". Little is known about the impact of free-drifting icebergs on the pelagic ecosystem of the Weddell Sea or on the Southern Ocean as a whole. It is hypothesized that as drifting islands, icebergs of small to intermediate size (< 10 km in largest dimension) impart unique physical, chemical and biological characteristics to the surrounding water. Three general questions will be asked to address this hypothesis: 1) What are the dynamics (approximate size, abundance and spatial distribution) of free-drifting icebergs on temporal scales of days to months, based on correlation of field measurements with imagery derived from satellite sensors? 2) What is the relationship between the size of free-drifting icebergs and the structure of the associated pelagic communities? 3) What is the estimated combined impact of free-drifting icebergs in the NW Weddell Sea on the biological characteristics of the pelagic zone? This interdisciplinary study will use standard oceanographic sampling coupled with unique methodology for staging shipboard data from all types of sensors and survey methods to determine the sphere of influence for a diverse set of biological factors as a function of iceberg size. The exploratory research proposed here will provide critical data on the effects of atmospheric warming in the Antarctic Peninsula region. The recent prevalence of free drifting icebergs in the Southern Ocean should have a pronounced enrichment effect on the surrounding pelagic ecosystem, altering community dynamics. Enhanced primary production associated with these icebergs could influence the global carbon cycle since the Southern Ocean is considered a major sink for excess CO2 from the atmosphere.
The proposed research will include an innovative education component through the Ocean Exploration Center (OEC), whose focus is to provide a comprehensive view of the oceans, intelligible to non-scientists and researchers alike, with direct access to state-of-the-art databases and selected websites. The OEC will allow users to access content which has been classified to one of four levels: entry (grade K-6), student (grade 6-12), college, and research. The results from this iceberg project will be incorporated into the Antarctic Research division of the OEC, providing databases documenting the impact of free-drifting icebergs on the surrounding pelagic ecosystem. These data then will be extrapolated to evaluate the impact of icebergs on the ecosystem of the Weddell Sea. Graduate students, undergraduates, teachers and volunteers are an important part of the proposed field and laboratory work.
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