Monday, April 26, 2010

Whales and Climate Change: the role of Whale poo in absorption of CO2

Ban Whaling While back room deals are being negotiated for resumption of commercial whaling, latest research is highlighting the complex interaction of whales and whale poo in the productivity of the entire Southern Ocean ecosystem and the ocean's ability to absorb CO2, impacting climate change.

Whales and krill play a key role in the recycling of iron in the top layer of the ocean. Iron is a critical element in the ocean that enables the production of aquatic plants - algae - which absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).

"We found that krill concentrated the iron they consumed in their bodies and because they swim near the surface, they keep the iron in the top layer of the ocean," Dr Nicol said. "Approximately 24% of the total iron in the Southern Ocean surface water is currently stored within krill body tissue."

According to the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) the most recent estimates of krill biomass in the Southern Ocean is 379 million tonnes, storing about 15,000 tonnes of iron.

"When whales consume the iron-rich krill, they excrete most of the iron back into the water, therefore fertilising the ocean and starting the whole food cycle again," Dr Nicol said.

So the whale poo is highly concentrated in iron providing a perfect basis for algae to grow drawing down atmospheric CO2 "The baleen whales' faecal iron concentration is calculated to be about 10 million times that of Antarctic seawater," he said.

Of course it is no surprise that this information is coming from non-lethal whaling research rather than the fake research being conducted on a yearly basis to disguise commercial whaling by the Japanese whaling fleet under an International Whaling Commission loophole.

Update: Here is the segment of the ABC TV science program Catalyst on this story: