- NASA scientists discover 100 km stretch of phytoplankton under the ice near Alaska
- Pools of melting ice linked to global warming causing algae to bloom twice as fast
- Previously scientists thought ice blocked the sunlight needed for plants to grow; now they think melting ice pools concentrate the sunlight like a magnifying glass
The world’s largest under-ice bloom of phytoplankton has been uncovered in the Arctic, in a surprise discovery that researchers have likened to ‘finding the Amazon rainforest in the Mojave Desert’.
Experts had previously thought that sea ice blocked the sunlight needed for marine plants to grow, so scientists were shocked to discover a ‘massive’ 100 kilometre (62 mile) stretch of phytoplankton blooming under the ice north of Alaska – the length of 1,000 football pitches.
Phytoplankton are microscopic algae that form the basis of the ocean food chain and have a huge impact on Earth’s climate. The tiny single-celled algae soak up 45 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and provide half the planet’s oxygen supply.
Scientists made their startling finding during a NASA ICESCAPE expedition to examine the impact of climate change in the Chukchi sea.
As they ploughed through meter-thick ice using a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker ship in July last year, the team spotted an unusual amount of fluorescing chlorophyll, indicating that photosynthesizing plant life was present.
After investigating, they found four times more phytoplankton under the ice than in ice-free waters nearby, according to reports published in Science magazine.