It was something out of a Sci-Fi show to believe that plants could grow in the Arctic ice region, but NASA’s new discovery proves the contrary. According to researchers, beneath the Arctic ice there’s a rainforest of microscopic plants growing.
A study published this Thursday changes everything we thought we knew about the vast icy regions of the Arctic. NASA’s new discovery shows in the freezing waters of the Arctic some plants were able to develop and grow across a 60-mile region. Paula Bontempi, ocean biology program manager with NASA, said the new discovery is “like finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert”.
Biological oceanographer Kevin Arrigo with the Stanford University explains: “As someone who has been studying polar marine ecosystems for 25 years, I had always through that the idea of under-ice phytoplankton bloom was nonsense”. The new discovery surprised even the scientists and showed them that not only was phytoplankton blooming under the ice, but it did so four times more than in open waters.
Arrigo told OurAmazingPlanet that the staggering discovery will have scientists rethink most of their “ideas about how the Arctic Ocean ecosystems function”. The scientists added that the existence of phytoplankton under the thick layers of ice shows “that the Arctic Ocean is a much more biologically productive place than we previously thought”.
The rainforest beneath the ice exists thanks to what scientists call “ecological shifts”. The climate changes have made the ice thin enough to allow the existence of microscopic plants. It existed before, but only when the sea ice was melted by the summer temperatures. The ponds of melted ice that carried the forests of microscopic plants were first discovered off northern Alaska, in the Chucki Sea.
The phytoplankton forests are one of the most basic food sources in the oceans and produce 50 percent of the overall oxygen produced by plants. Scientists don’t know yet if the abundance of phytoplankton in the icy waters of the Arctic will produce side effects for the ecosystem there.
“A more productive Arctic is not necessarily an improved Arctic or a better Arctic” said Arrigo. “If the Arctic becomes increasingly more productive, some members of the ecosystem will benefit, while others will not. There will be both winners and losers”.