Immense Algae Bloom Signals Major Change in Arctic

NOTE: This is a guest post from Sarah Bedolfe, Coordinator of Marine Research for One World One Ocean.

Last July, scientists happened upon a massive phytoplankton bloom in the Arctic, like none seen before. It covered 100 km (62 miles) and was dense enough to make the water green and murky — it contained four times as much phytoplankton as neighboring areas.

One scientist said it was like “finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” according to CNN.

“Suddenly, the fluorometer went nuts. We thought there was something wrong with the instrument,” Kevin Arrigo, leader of the study, was quoted in a Stanford News article, in regard to the fluorescence-measuring device used to estimate the algal content of water.

The bloom shocked scientists because it was growing under thick sea ice, where sunlight is limited. Algae blooms only happen when conditions are ideal: upwelling brings nutrients near the surface, where they meet abundant sunlight. A massive bloom in the dark, under the ice, is a lot like a polar bear cub getting fat on a diet of nothing.

The discovery in the Chukchi Sea, north of Alaska and Russia, was documented this month in Science, and is getting attention because the microscopic algae does photosynthesis and provides the basic food that other organisms all the way up the food web depend on. It also produces around 50% of our planet’s oxygen.

Researchers realized the bloom happened because the sea ice, instead of blocking sunlight like before, is melting and getting thinner, and the melt pools on the surface actually magnify sunlight. This creates conditions more favorable for algae than areas that have no ice cover, reversing what was previously thought, and opening many questions about how Arctic ecosystems work, and how melting ice will change that.

Last winter scientists discovered that tiny zooplankton, animals which are fed on by everything from Arctic Cod to right whales, are also much more active than previously thought in the brutally cold Arctic winter. These developments illustrate how many significant discoveries are still to be made in the Arctic, and how important it is to fund research there.

You can support the efforts of One World One Ocean and their partners working to protect the Arctic here.

One World One Ocean is a campaign using media across all platforms from IMAX to iPhone, to inspire people to protect the ocean. Sarah Bedolfe is Coordinator of Marine Research for One World One Ocean, a has conducted first hand research on marine ecosystems as a certified scuba diver.

Related Stories:

Drill, Baby, Drill – Shell’s Arctic Madness

Deformed Fish Found Downstream of Tar Sands Mines

The Fight For the Arctic

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.


Mark Donners
Mark Donner5 years ago

When it's far too late nations like Australia, Canada, China and the US may stop producing carbon emissions from heavily polluting things like filthy coal..but only when their coastal cities are underwater.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

I think global warming is a mix of both, Marilyn, I don't think you can deny that humans do have some fault..

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch5 years ago

Just another reason not to open up the Artic to oil companies.

Glenda L.
Glenda L5 years ago

We should study these things before allowing any drilling or exploration by oil companies.

Kelly Rogers5 years ago

Read and noted

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

Tim, I doubt that we will realize a balance, if it were so, we most probably would have realize itlong before now. Just another canary in the ice flow.

I guess that we need to look at the degree of acidification and how fast. In the end its all about the pH and beyond.

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

Marilyn M, There is considered info to suggest that there are some known natural climate cycle changes underfoot, then there is La Nina and El Nino, all of which makes accurate computer modeling a real task. All the while, we have to contend with the deniers, you remember them...they were still dancing on the Titanic as the slip beneath the waves.

At the end of the day, ask yourself this...all that man/women are currently doing to combat Global Climate Change (GCC) and to mitigate is overall effect on our planet, isn't this what we should have been doing all along. Even w/o GCC.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

We are still discovering and learning. That is why I think global warming is not all man-made, but nature doing her thing.

cristiano t.

there is so much we sill don't know. We are like cave mans playing with a revolver.