Arctic Microbes Found
After breaking through metre-thick slabs with an ice-breaking ship, and lowering underwater cameras, phytoplankton was found growing at extraordinary rates
Arctic Microbes Found
A genuinely massive carpet of plant-like plankton has been discovered, extending over 100 km under ice off the coast of Alaska, secret gardens hiding beneath floating slabs of Arctic ice
These microscopic life-forms, first seen in July 2011, could potentially be hazardous to other wildlife in Chukchi Sea waters, seasonal blooms of this magnitude normally occurring later in the summer months, and then only after ice melts, in open waters exposed to sunlight.
Stanford University biological oceanographer Kevin Arrigo - a 30 year veteran in the field - commented that he had never seen anything like it, the assumption having always been that nothing can grow in the water beneath the ice, because light doesn’t penetrate thick ice well.
Ice layers topped with snow provide an opaque blanket, so that water beneath becomes unhealthy for the phytoplankton, as they need light for photosynthesis to gain nourishment, yet global warming has changed the ice, to the extent that the really thick old ice slabs are becoming gradually thinner and allowing more light through to the water below.
It is also true that the now warmer arctic air causes the snow on top of young ice to melt, darkening the ice surface and allowing it to absorb more light, to the extent that these days, up to 50% of the light striking these young ice slabs can reach the water underneath.
Researchers discovered that the ice is incredibly transparent, and after breaking through metre-thick slabs with an ice-breaking ship, and lowering underwater cameras, phytoplankton was found growing at extraordinary rates. The micro-plants were being fed both by the light streaming from the sun, and nutrients coming from the Bering Strait, so that even 50m down, the organisms thrived.
What this prosperity How this explosion of plant-life will affect the possible myriad life-forms concealed beneath the ice remains to be seen, but Kevin worries that these blooms of phyto-plankton may make life difficult for other creatures, though much more research will need to be carried out before this can be established with any certainty.