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Giant algae blooms thriving under thinning Arctic sea ice

Jun 13, 2012   |   by Kazi Stastna   |   CBC News (Canada)

Scientists surprised to find phytoplankton growing below ice layer

A group of U.S. scientists has discovered enormous blooms of algae growing in an area of the Arctic Ocean that they never thought could support the phytoplankton: below the sea ice.

The discovery was a shock because living organisms don't usually survive underneath the ice pack that covers parts of the Arctic Ocean for much of the year and blocks out the light needed to sustain life.

"First, we were thinking, 'This can't be. This can't be possible. There's no way this can be what it looks like,'" Kevin R. Arrigo, a biological oceanographer at Stanford University in California and lead author of the study, told "Then the next thing was: 'Has anybody seen this before?'"

Arrigo and his colleagues had certainly never seen anything like it on past Arctic expeditions.

"Typically, what we find when we sample the ice is that occasionally, there's things inside the ice, but there's almost no biology below the ice," Arrigo explained in a separate interview on the website of the journal Science, where his team's findings were published last week...

...Two of Arrigo's main fellow algae researchers on the trip were Donald K. Perovich of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, both in New Hampshire; and Robert S. Pickart of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Arrigo was primarily in charge of analyzing the water column while Perovich oversaw sea ice operations and Pickart analyzed the data from a physical oceanographer's perspective.

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