NASA announced yesterday that scientists have made a huge biological discovery in the Arctic Ocean; comparing it to "finding a rain forest in the middle of the Mojave desert."
During the summers of 2010 and 2011, a NASA oceanographic expedition, ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment), discovered huge amounts of phytoplankton; microscopic marine plants. The phytoplankton are growing under 3 feet of ice, referred to as under-ice blooms. This is the first time under-ice blooms have been found. Scientists on the expedition would have thought it impossible had they not seen it for themselves.
Phytoplankton are the foundation of the marine food chain and are crucial to marine life. Prior to this discovery it was thought that phytoplankton only grew after the Arctic Sea ice retreated for the summer; as it was thought they only grew in open water. Scientists now believe that thinning ice allows sunlight to penetrate through, accessing the water under the ice, and catalyzing the growth of the phytoplankton.
Researchers say that the phytoplankton is highly active, duplicating at double the rate of phytoplankton in open waters; these rates are of the highest ever measured in the Polar Regions.
Researchers are questioning whether or not this has to do with the large increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because phytoplankton are such huge carbon consumers. It was concluded that more research was needed to determine whether these phytoplankton are a new development or have been active for a long time.
The effect these blooms have on migratory species is also still to be determined. If this is just a regular pattern it could mean that phytoplankton are blooming earlier than normal and could cause some migratory marine animals to miss their food deadline; which will shake up the entire food chain.
This discovery is significant to understanding the effects of large amounts of atmospheric carbon and how it effects our planet. It may also be an example of what our planet will do in order to rebalance itself; using other organisms to help off shoot the human footprint.