Researchers at NASA have discovered rich plant life of microscopic size deep inside the Arctic Ocean. The discovery was also confirmed by ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment).
“Part of NASA’s mission is pioneering scientific discovery, and this is like finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert. 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,” NASA ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager Paula Bontempi said, as reported on webpronews.com.
The ICESCAPE team drilled into the ice layer and discovered phytoplankton, which contains chlorophyll and is a source of oxygen along with being a food source for the marine animals. These plants were found in a larger area and even in those parts where they were not growing previously.
“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. These blooms could become more widespread in the future, however, if the Arctic sea ice cover continues to thin,” ICESCAPE mission leader Kevin Arrigo said, as reported in webpronews.com report.
The research team previously thought that phytoplankton could not grow below the ice layer, but they were surprised to record higher readings on their detection device for the microscopic plants when they reached the frozen part of the ocean during their mission.
"As the ship moved from the open water into the ice pack, the instrument that tells us how much phytoplankton are in the water started to produce very high numbers. I thought this was odd since there shouldn't be phytoplankton under the ice. I actually feared that our instrument was malfunctioning," Arrigo said, as reported on csmonitor.com.
"As someone who has been studying polar marine ecosystems for 25 years, I had always thought that the idea of under-ice phytoplankton blooms was nonsense. There is simply not enough light getting through the ice into the ocean for them to grow," he added.
Scientists are now focusing on whether the presence of marine plant life under the ice has any impact on the ecosystem and other species in the ocean. Further research into the subject would lead to any conclusion about the impact, but for now the discovery is quite overwhelming for marine biologists.