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Study finds big increase in ocean carbon dioxide absorption along West Antarctic Peninsula

A new study shows that the West Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing some of the most rapid climate change on Earth, featuring dramatic increases in temperatures, retreats in glaciers and declines in sea ice. The Southern Ocean absorbs nearly half of the carbon dioxide -- the key greenhouse gas linked to climate change -- that is absorbed by all the world's oceans. The study tapped an unprecedented 25 years of oceanographic measurements in the Southern Ocean and highlights the need for more monitoring in the region. The research revealed that carbon dioxide absorption by surface waters off the West Antarctic Peninsula is linked to the stability of the upper ocean, along with the amount and type of algae present. A stable upper ocean provides algae with ideal growing conditions. During photosynthesis, algae remove carbon dioxide from the surface ocean, which in turn draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. From 1993 to 2017, changes in sea ice dynamics off the West Antarctic Peninsula stabilized the upper ocean, resulting in greater algal concentrations and a shift in the mix of algal species. That's led to a nearly five-fold increase in carbon dioxide absorption during the summertime. The research also found a strong north-south difference in the trend of carbon dioxide absorption. The southern portion of the peninsula, which to date has been less impacted by climate change, experienced the most dramatic increase in carbon dioxide absorption, demonstrating the poleward progression of climate change in the region.

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