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Scientists Discover Thriving Life on Icebergs

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Aired 4/19/09

New research suggests that icebergs may serve as "hotspots" for ocean life. San Diego scientists are part of a team that studied the floating ice islands in the Antarctic. The icebergs may also help fight global warming. KPBS reporter Ed Joyce has details.

The research shows that the Antarctic icebergs provide a great environment for marine life. Scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography , UCSD's Supercomputer Center, and the University of San Diego discovered thriving communities of seabirds above and fish below the large floating pieces.

USD marine scientist Ron Kaufmann says the icebergs hold trapped land material that could be thousands of years old. He says those nutrients are released as the icebergs melt -- feeding the growth of marine life.

Kaufmann : Icebergs like this form over many hundreds or thousands of years by the progressive accumulation of snow that falls. And as the snow falls, it carries with it fine particles that are suspended in the atmosphere. Those fine particles include small nutrients including things like iron that are deficient in the Southern Ocean.

He says some of the icebergs studied were several miles long. Scientists also think the icebergs may reduce global warming by removing carbon from the atmosphere. But they say more research is needed to prove that theory.

The findings were published in this week's issue of Science magazine .

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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