Major NASA Discovery Finds Phytoplankton Blooms Under Arctic Ice

For the first time, scientists have discovered extensive blooms of phytoplankton under Arctic Ocean ice, contradicting the widely held conviction that such blooms could not occur under sea ice that blocked the sun’s rays from triggering the blooms. Scientists on a NASA-sponsored expedition to the Arctic Ocean say the blooms are likely related to the rapid thinning of Arctic sea ice, which allows sunlight to penetrate the ice and trigger blooms. Working on a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker last summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska, the scientists discovered massive blooms that extended from the sea-ice edge to 72 miles inside the pack ice. The blooms did not occur under thick ice, but rather under melt ponds and nearly translucent melting ice. “This is like finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” said Paula Bontempi, NASA’s ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager. The research, published in Science, sheds new light on how the Arctic Ocean ecosystem may be reacting to a rapidly warming climate, affecting marine life from phytoplankton at the base of the food chain to gray whales at the top.