Multidisciplinary work revealed the presence of these elements and their dynamics in polar fjord systems. The research was published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Earth Science.
Daniela Jofré, IDEAL Center. Trace metals are very scarce in marine systems, being possible to find higher concentrations of these elements in freshwater bodies, such as rivers, glaciers and ice at the poles. Given the scientific evidence of accelerated melting in places like the Arctic and Antarctica, it is important to know how these components will influence the marine community.
Most of the scientific work had focused on the contribution of iron to the oceans. However, a multidisciplinary work analyzed the dynamics of four trace metals: Iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni) and copper (Cu), in eight zones of both poles, Greenland and Antarctica. For this study, data published from 2014 to date were used in order to consider greater interannual variability.
The results showed a constant presence of iron, mainly in the Arctic. “In the case of Greenland, there is a greater inflow of fresh water compared to Antarctica, so the range of salinity and the concentration of metals is much greater in this place,” explained Dr. Juan Höfer, a researcher at the IDEAL Center from the Austral University of Chile (UACh) and academic from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), who participated in the study.
Regarding the concentrations of cobalt, copper and nickel dissolved in the water, the results showed greater variability, considering the salinity levels according to the fjord, the season and the year.
On the influence of these metals in the water column, Dr. Höfer explained that “in the ocean, at the molecular level, there is a kind of race to see who gets these elements, since they are very scarce and cells need them. Bacteria and phytoplankton fight to see who gets to consume it first.”
Another point of the study is related to whether these elements enter the water dissolved or in the form of particles. The research determined an increase in the presence of this second group, which makes it difficult for organisms such as phytoplankton to absorb these metals.
“We must know what the melting waters are contributing, because it is still not clear what percentage of elements remains in the water column and how much is used by plankton, being necessary to know more about these dynamics in a climate change scenario which predicts an increasingly intense influx of metals into polar coastal waters,” commented Dr. Höfer.
The researcher emphasized on making comparisons between the two poles, since “what happens in the Arctic is like a look into the future. Although there are some differences in the composition of the elements present in Antarctic waters, what happens in the northern hemisphere can give us clues as to what could happen in the Southern Ocean in the future.”
The study was published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Earth Science, where researchers from the Institute of Marine and Limnological Sciences of the UACh, Center for Research in Ecosystems of Patagonia (CIEP), GEOMAR Institute (Germany), University of Science and Technology from Shenzhen (China), San José State University (United States), University of Lleida (Spain), Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (Netherlands) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) participated.
Read the study here.