Antartic krill sink enough carbon dioxide to neutralise 35 million cars

February 9, 2006

Brussels, 08 Feb 2006

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the University of Hull have found an unlikely new carbon 'sink' in the Southern Ocean. Antarctic krill, the tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that are the favoured meal for whales, sea-birds, penguins and seals, have been shown to transfer much larger quantities of carbon from the surface to the ocean than was previously thought.

Krill feed on microscopic plankton near the ocean surface and parachute to much deeper waters in the night to avoid predators. Each time this is done, the krill inject carbon dioxide into the water as they excrete their waste. Research published in the journal Current Biology shows that they do this many times each night.

Krill have long been familiar to researchers as the key link in the sea's food chain, but researchers 'had no idea their tactics to avoid being eaten could have such added benefits to the environment. By parachuting down they transport carbon which sinks ultimately to the ocean floor - an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 million cars - and this makes these tiny animals much more important than we thought,' said the lead researcher on the project, Dr Geraint Tarling of the BAS.

While the news of tiny creatures making this contribution may seem to be small, the sheer numbers of krill in the oceans make this a significant contribution - populations of Antarctic krill are estimated to weigh somewhere between 50 and 150 million tonnes.

While the environmental benefit of krill has just been realised, the number of krill in the oceans is dropping rapidly, having declined by some 80 per cent since the 1970s. This is thought to be due to global warming, and particularly warming in sea water, which has melted much of the sea-ice in the Antarctic peninsular, thought to be a key breeding-ground as the krill feed from algae on the underside of the ice.

Krill are an essential part of the food chain, swarming in gigantic numbers throughout all oceans, but most notably in the Southern Ocean. Krill are also fished commercially for aquarium food and for human consumption in Japan and Russia.

BAS Press Office contact details:
Linda Capper
Email: lmca@bas.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1223 221448
and
Athena Dinar
Email: amdi@bas.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1223 221414

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2005

Previous Item

Back to Titles

Print Item

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

Track runner slow off the starting blocks

Lack of independent working blamed for difficulties making the leap from undergraduate to doctoral work

A keyboard with a 'donate' key

Richard Budd mulls the logic of giving money to your alma mater

Quality under magnifying glass

Hefce's new standards regime will enable universities to focus on what matters to students, says Susan Lapworth

Woman tearing up I can't sign

Schools and universities are increasingly looking at how improving personalities can boost social mobility. But in doing so, they may be forced to choose between teaching what is helpful, and what is true, says David Matthews

Door peephole painted as bomb ready to explode

It’s time to use technology to detect potential threats and worry less about outdated ideas of privacy, says Ron Iphofen