An Arctic Ocean plankton bloom

The MODIS sensor satellite imagery is showing a beautiful and evolving large plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea at the moment.

Plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea, as seen in the MODIS sensor on 23 June 2015.
Plankton bloom in the Chukchi Sea, as seen in the MODIS sensor on 23 June 2015. Alaska is on the LEFT and Russia the RIGHT. The image is looking SOUTH.

The plankton are the lighter green bands I've labelled and the full image is available at an astonishing 250m resolution.

If the Bering Straight looks odd it's because this image is taken from over the North Pole and looking southwards.

Screengrab from Google Earth Showing North and the direction of the satellite view.
Screengrab from Google Earth Showing North and the direction of the satellite view. Alaska is on the RIGHT, Russia is on the LEFT.

Conventional wisdom says that as the Arctic Ocean sea ice retreats over the coming decades and the ocean warms, then we are going to see more plankton blooms like the one shown above.

But that's not the whole story. Professor Kevin Arrigo published a paper in 2014 that suggested the plankton blooms in this part of the Arctic can form under the ice.

Abstract of the paper. The journal page is here, and you can download the PDF.
Abstract of the paper. The journal page is here, and you can download the PDF of the paper.

He and his co-authors suggest that melt ponds on the sea ice let enough light through to spur the bloom on. The NASA image below from the Wikipedia page on melt ponds tell the story.

Melt ponds on sea ice in the Arctic. Snow has been melted away to form pools which can let through light.
Melt ponds on sea ice in the Arctic. Snow has been melted away to form pools which can let through light. Source.

The dark areas are ponds of water where the snow has been melted away. The bare ice beneath can let light through. Arrigo and his co-workers suggested that this is enough for biological production.

It was also the subject of a post I wrote a couple of years ago.

Jonathan Amos reported on a piece of work last year that showed the extent of the melt ponds can also predict the summer extent of Arctic Sea ice.

We should expect more more plankton blooms as the Arctic changes. You can learn more about the Chukchi Sea at the Chukchi Sea Environmental Studies Program (CSESP).

2 thoughts on “An Arctic Ocean plankton bloom

  1. Richard Hall

    An impressive picture, I don't recall seeing such a clear image of the Bering Strait before, which highlights the ice extent so clearly- especially when compared to the daily ice edge maps from NSIDC.

    Reply

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