Maybe one of the most important studies showing how the melting of icebergs affects global warming and how these icebergs help the algae sequester carbon dioxide has been published by marine biologist Ken Smith. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the electronic issue of Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography.
The study has been performed during three-month cruises in the Weddell Sea in 2005, 2008 and 2009, used robots, remote-controlled aircraft and submersibles. They studied icebergs that were carried by currents into the Weddell Sea, after they had been split off each other by global warming.
These icebergs have been proven to carry iron-rich sediments from the land into the ocean, phenomenon that promotes the development of microscopic algae, one of nature’s best carbon-sequestering tools.
A new submersible (called the “Lagrangian sediment trap“) robot had been developed and programmed by a team led by MBARI’s Alana Sherman. It submerged itself 600 meters below the surface while an iceberg the size of a small town had been passing above it. After the iceberg had passed, the robot collected samples of sediments and algae from the iceberg’s trail from 600 meters deep up to the surface.
The team then concluded that twice as much carbon sank into the sea within a 30-kilometer radius of the iceberg, compared with a “control” area they had set up at the surface.
The above-mentioned experiment has been performed in an inhospitable area in the Southern Ocean called the “iceberg alley.”
The importance of icebergs in carbon sequestration had been theorized before, but never proven until now. As climate changes bring the melting of such huge icebergs, an important mechanism in Earth’s own self-defense system is imbalanced, enhancing the negative effects in a self-sustained, paradoxical manner.