NASA new discovery: In case you were wondering, it's not space-oriented. No, according to the folks at Space Ref, an expedition to the Arctic Ocean has uncovered an area saturated in microscopic marine plant life, one that's richer than any other ocean on Earth. ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment) took a good, hard look at the waters around Alaska's western and northern using optical technology. What they found was nothing short of astounding.
"Part of NASA's mission is pioneering scientific discovery, and this is like finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert," said NASA's ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager Paula Bontempi. "We embarked on ICESCAPE to validate our satellite ocean-observing data in an area of the Earth that is very difficult to get to. We wound up making a discovery that hopefully will help researchers and resource managers better understand the Arctic."
After drilling a three-feet thick hole into the ice, scientists uncovered phytoplankton, which are the base of all marine life. Originally, authorities on the subject believed these plants grew only after the sun-soaked summer months had thinned the ice. However, thanks to recent shifts in climate, the phytoplankton are thought to grow in areas where they were once absent. The discovery has caused quite a stir.
"At this point we don't know whether these rich phytoplankton blooms have been happening in the Arctic for a long time and we just haven't observed them before," ICESCAPE mission leader Kevin Arrigo explained. "These blooms could become more widespread in the future, however, if the Arctic sea ice cover continues to thin."
The downside: Animals that rely on the plant life for food may miss their opportunity to consume the phytokplankton since these creatures have timed their life cycles around the blooming season. "If their food supply is coming earlier, they might be missing the boat," Arrigo stated.