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Tiny undersea plants may affect Arctic ocean life

Jun 12, 2012   |   by David Perlman   |   San Francisco Chronicle

Stanford scientists aboard an icebreaker in the Arctic's remote Chukchi Sea have discovered a massive bloom of the microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton beneath the sea ice—a discovery that could affect the life of every seagoing creature in the Arctic, they reported Thursday.

The abundant plankton, they say, will force scientists to rethink long-held assumptions about the Arctic's ecology, and could open up a major new food source for humans.

Kevin Arrigo, a biologist and oceanographer at Stanford's School of Earth Sciences, together with Donald K. Perovich of Dartmouth and a large team of colleagues, reported their discovery in the online journal Science Express...

...The thriving plankton bloom could eventually give rise to a vibrant fishery, providing a new food resource for humans, the scientists believe.

The ice itself was between 2 1/2 and 4 feet thick where the phytoplankton cells were growing, Arrigo said - and to their astonishment they found the plankton bloom was at least four times greater than in the open water.

"The mass of phytoplankton we found was truly astounding," Arrigo said. "It was the most intense I've ever seen in my 25 years of research in the Arctic. It was a complete surprise."

"It's a pure discovery," Perovich added, "and now we have an entirely new ocean."

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