A NASA mission has discovered a huge amount of phytoplankton, algae vital to the ocean food chain, where scientists expected least: under the Arctic ice, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.
This research is based on data collected by both satellite and ground surveys to analyze this vital source of food for many marine creatures.
NASA sent a team of researchers to take samples of ice covering the Chukchi Sea, which borders the northwestern tip of the Americas (Alaska).
They found that the amounts of phytoplankton were “extremely high, about four times larger than in open waters.” This is a “massive bloom under the ice,” which appears to extend over 100 kilometers, according to the study.
Phytoplankton appears rarer in quantity and more in depth in open waters, according to the latest data from the mission of NASA known of Icescape. “By comparison, the phytoplankton in open waters was significantly lower amount than under the ice, and best at depths of 20 to 50 meters due to a reduction of nutrients to the surface,” says the study.
This research suggests that the Arctic Ocean is more productive than what we thought, although further analysis is needed to determine how this phytoplankton ice affects local ecosystems.
Microscopic organism at the base of the ocean food chain and essential for the reproductive cycles of fish, water birds and polar bears, phytoplankton is also essential in the process of photosynthesis.
Since 1950, its quantity, however, fell 40%, mainly because of the growing impact of climate change, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Nature.