Giant Algae Under the Arctic Sea Ice

A group of U.S. scientists has discovered enormous blooms of algae growing in an area of the Arctic Ocean that they never thought could support the phytoplankton: below the sea ice.




The discovery was a shock because living organisms don't usually survive underneath the ice pack that covers parts of the Arctic Ocean for much of the year and blocks out the light needed to sustain life.

"First, we were thinking, 'This can't be. This can't be possible. There's no way this can be what it looks like,'" Kevin R. Arrigo, a biological oceanographer at Stanford University in California and lead author of the study, told "Then the next thing was: 'Has anybody seen this before?'"

But in recent years, Arctic ice has been thinning and receding because of climate change, and the thriving algae blooms could be one consequence of that change. Phytoplankton are single-celled organisms that although technically not plants, behave like plants, transforming carbon dioxide into sugars and other molecules that feed an entire marine food chain. Different species of it are found all over the world although the polar species that Arrigo and his colleagues found is adapted to the cold conditions of the Arctic and is only found there.

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