The loss of sea ice over Antarctic waters has caused certain forms of life to flourish on the seafloor, and those underwater communities are acting as important and unexpected carbon sinks, according to research published in the journal Current Biology.
Based on studies of West Antarctic bryozoans — aquatic invertebrates sometimes referred to as “moss animals” — researchers have found that those and other seafloor organisms could play important roles in accumulating and burying carbon, removing it from the atmosphere for an extremely long time. Specimens collected from across West Antarctic seas over more than 20 years reveal major increases in the density of life on the seabed, the researchers say. They calculate that growth of the bryozoans has nearly doubled, with the animals taking in more than 200,000 tons of carbon per year since the 1980s.
Extrapolating the findings to account for other undersea species, the researchers suggest that roughly 3 million tons of carbon are sequestered each year, equivalent to nearly 200 square miles of tropical rainforest.