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Home » Arctic Ocean fossils suggest climate change might not be so great for plankton

Arctic Ocean fossils suggest climate change might not be so great for plankton

Arctic Ocean fossils suggest climate change might not be so great for plankton

Some scientists have predicted shrinking sea ice and more light reaching the Arctic Ocean's surface could mean more plankton. New research suggests otherwise.

Climate change is warming the Arctic Ocean and causing sea ice to shrink. Some of these changes will be irreversible but scientists have predicted the lack of sea ice could see more light reach the ocean's surface, unwittingly leading to a boon in plankton. The tiny organisms sit at the bottom of the food web and are critical for fish and other sea life to feed on.

In 2020, huge blooms of one type of plankton were spotted in the open Arctic. Researchers have recorded an increase in plankton productivity and shown climate change is providing a lot more space to expand into as sea ice diminishes. Sounds good? It might not be.

According to a study published in Nature Geoscience on Monday, shrinking sea ice may spell doom for plankton.

A team of scientists led by Princeton University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry used fossilized plankton and ice cores to examine the history of sources and supply rates of nitrogen, a vital nutrient for plankton, to the western and central open Arctic Ocean.

Their research suggests with global warming, these waters will have less nitrogen -- negatively affecting plankton productivity.

"Looking at the Arctic Ocean from space, it's difficult to see water at all, as much of the Arctic Ocean is covered by a layer of sea ice," said Jesse Farmer, lead author of the study, geoscientist at Princeton University and visiting postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, in a statement. That sea ice naturally expands in the winter and contracts in the summer. In recent decades, global warming has led to a rapid drop in summer sea ice coverage, with that ice cover now being around half of what it was in 1979.
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