Captain Scott's Antarctic Expeditions Used to Predict Climate Change

Samples of marine life from the 1900’s could prove to be an invaluable resource for scientists in projecting climate change.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey are using specimens of marine life collected during Captain Scott’s trips to the Antarctic.

The study has revealed that bryozoans, which are minute marine animals have increased in numbers over the past century and dramatically so in the last 10 years. The British Antarctic Survey confirmed that this is because there are greater levels of carbon dioxide located on the sea bed.

Bryozoans, which resemble twigs stuck into the sea bed, have increased in both numbers and size. The tiny marine animal lives off plankton and the length of its feeding season is reflected in growth rings similar to that seen in trees. The study has shown that bryozoans are eating more phytoplankton, which are minute marine plants that live off carbon dioxide in the seawater.

By analyzing recent specimens and the specimens from Captain Scott’s trips, the research has shown that bryozoans have grown at the same rate from the early 1900’s until 1990, but since then, the rate growth has increased to double the amount of that in the 20th century.

"This is important because it's locking away carbon. The 'branches' of the bryozoans break off and are easily buried, and we've seen that - so burial is taking carbon out of circulation," said David Barnes who is leading the research.

The results of the study show the South Ocean is storing and absorbing higher levels of Co2 than it did in the 20thcentury. Consequently, the British Antarctic Survey believes that this is increasing the carbon sink.

However, Corinne Le Quere, the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and a member of the Global Carbon Project contradicted the British Antarctic Survey and said, “Winds there have accelerated over the last 50 years, and it's thought this is speeding up the mixing in the Southern Ocean and bringing to the surface deep water that's rich in CO2. So we have observations of this physical process, but the biological activity we don't have much information about; if you're mixing the ocean more, how are organisms responding?”

"Usually in my experience the biological response compensates a bit, but not enough ; and the fact that you have this one organism with higher growth rates doesn't say how much this is going to affect the carbon balance," she added.

Photo Credit: Wangi