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Ice Shelf Collapse May Cause Antarctica Starvation

As parts of Antarctica are fall into the sea, new satellite data shows that these dramatic changes are affecting the growth of small organisms important to the local food chain. Icebergs that have broken off from the Ross Ice Shelf have caused a 40 percent reduction in the size of the 2000-2001 plankton bloom in one of Antarctica's most biologically productive areas. The icebergs decrease the amount of open water, which the plants need in order to reproduce.

After the B-15 iceberg broke off or ?calved? in March, 2000, researchers used imagery from NASA's SeaWiFS (Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor) satellite to study the effect that large icebergs have on the blooms of tiny floating plants called phytoplankton. The B-15 iceberg that broke off the Ross Ice Shelf and drifted into the southwestern Ross Sea was about 3,900 square miles, or as large as the state of Connecticut.

The southwestern Ross Sea is one of the most biologically productive regions in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. In the springtime, winds normally clear away sea ice and allowing phytoplankton to flourish. Phytoplankton are a critical part of the entire ecosystem in the Ross Sea, since they sustain marine mammals and birds in the region, including penguins. However, when large icebergs calve, such as B-15, sea ice is not as easily moved by winds, severely reducing the area of open water. SeaWiFS satellite imagery enabled researchers to see that B-15 restricted the normal drift of pack ice.

Kevin Arrigo, a researcher at Stanford University, says, "This is the first time that satellite imagery has been used to document the potential for large icebergs to substantially alter the dynamics of a marine ecosystem."

See news story, ?Most of Antarctica May Soon Disappear?, click here.

To understand why the ice shelves in Antarctica are collapsing, read ?The Coming Global Superstorm? by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, now only $9.95 for a hardcover autographed by Whitley,click here.

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