A NASA-sponsored expedition to the chilling waters of the Arctic Ocean has yielded a new discovery that scientists have compared to finding “a rainforest in the Sahara desert.”
The ISCESCAPE Expedition (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment) found that the water below the ice was full of microscopic marine plants which are essential to life in the region.
Paula Bontempi, NASA’s ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager in Washington, said:
“Part of NASA’s mission is pioneering scientific discovery, and this is like finding the Amazon Rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert. We embarked on ICESCAPE to validate our satellite ocean-observing data in an area of the Earth that is very difficult to get to… We wound up making a discovery that hopefully will help researchers and resource managers better understand the Arctic.”
Scientists previously believed that the microscopic plants, called phytoplankton, only grew in the Arctic Ocean after the sea ice retreated for the Summer. Scientists now believe that the changing climate has thinned the Arctic ice, allowing sunlight to reach the dark waters below.
The findings from NASA’s new discovery were published today in the Journal Science.
Kevin Arrigo of Stanford University, the leader of the ICESCAPE mission, said:
“If someone had asked me before the expedition whether we would see under-ice blooms, I would have told them it was impossible. This discovery was a complete surprise…. At this point we don’t know whether these rich phytoplankton blooms have been happening in the Arctic for a long time and we just haven’t observed them before. These blooms could become more widespread in the future, however, if the Arctic sea ice cover continues to thin.”
Arigo said that the discovery may threaten large migratory sea animals. Arigo said:
“It could make it harder and harder for migratory species to time their life cycles to be in the Arctic when the bloom is at its peak. If their food supply is coming earlier, they might be missing the boat.”
Here’s a video about NASA’s new discovery.