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Top Story

Diving robots find Antarctic seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide in winter

The open water nearest the sea ice surrounding Antarctica releases significantly more carbon dioxide in winter than previously believed, a new study has found. Researchers conducting the study used data gathered over several winters by an array of robotic floats diving and drifting in the Southern Ocean around the southernmost continent. Researchers from the University of Washington, Princeton University and several other oceanographic institutions wanted to learn how much carbon dioxide was transferred by the surrounding seas. The floats made it possible to gather data during the peak of the Southern Hemisphere's winter from a place that remains poorly studied, despite its role in regulating the global climate. "These results came as a really big surprise, because previous studies found that the Southern Ocean was absorbing a lot of carbon dioxide," said one researcher. "If that's not true, as these data suggest, then it means we need to rethink the Southern Ocean's role in the carbon cycle and in the climate." Looking at circles of increasing distance from the South Pole, the researchers found that in winter, the open water next to the sea-ice-covered waters around Antarctica is releasing significantly more carbon dioxide than expected to the atmosphere. The study analyzed data collected by 35 floats between 2014 and 2017. The floating instruments that collected the new observations drift with the currents and control their buoyancy to collect observations at different depths. The researchers note that observations from these technologies have implications for understanding the global carbon cycle.

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