Disappearing ice altering ecosystem subtly

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Washington, April 9 (IANS) Shrinking sea ice, snow and glaciers, especially in high-latitude regions where water is frozen for sometime, the cryosphere, is affecting the ecosystem in hidden ways.

Scientists have already recorded how some larger animals, such as penguins and polar bears, are responding to loss of their habitat, but research is only now starting to uncover less obvious effects of the shrinking cryosphere on organisms.

Disappearing sea ice also seems, unexpectedly, to be decreasing the sea's uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, the journal BioScience reports.

On land, snowpack changes can alter an area's suitability for a particular plant species, and melting permafrost affects the amount of CO2 that plants and microbes take out of the atmosphere, according to a statement of Portland State University.

The study by Andrew G. Fountain of Portland State University and five co-authors describes how decreasing snowfall in many areas threatens burrowing animals and makes plant roots more susceptible to injury because snow acts as an insulator.

And because microbes such as diatoms that live under sea ice are a principal source of food for krill, disappearing sea ice has led to a decline in their abundance, resulting in impacts on seabirds and mammals that feed on krill.