Phytoplankton blooms have been discovered underneath thick ice at the Arctic by researchers on a NASA sponsored expedition.
You might not think that means that much, but apparently this discovery has far-reaching implications.
The fact that the Arctic can support such lifeforms means that the Arctic Ocean contains ecosystems previously not thought to exist under ice.
So what are phytoplankton blooms?
Well, for starters, they’re single cell organisms. They also contain chlorophyll which means they live off and respond to sunlight and are green in color.
According to the scientists currently marveling at this discovery, these organisms are also hugely important. Phrases like ‘key to life’ and ‘of vital importance’ are being bandied about.
Reason: These organisms serve as food sources for many of the animals that live in the Arctic ocean and produce about 50 % of the total oxygen output of all plant life. Yes, all.
Traditional scientific thought long believed that marine phytoplankton presence in polar regions was negligible to non-existent due to the layers of ice above it. However, the plucky phytoplankton grows most in the summer when the sun is constant, and can multiply to around four times the amount it does in uncovered water.
As a result of this discovery a major rethink about polar marine environments is now rippling through marine research scientists both in terms of what it means for ecosystems and for climate change effects on plant life.
The huge bloom discovered under the ice in the Chukchi Sea continental shelf could only have grown at the rate it did due to thinning ice. This thinning has been taking place over a period of decades. Basically, the more light that gets through to ocean, the more phytoplankton grows.
Competing theories that the blooms developed in open water before locating under the ice have already been disproven, but scientists remain stumped about the ramifications of this discovery.
In other words: More is not always better. Too much phytoplankton could be just as hazardous to life in the ocean as too little.
The findings of this study were published today in the journal science. [Subscription necessary].