Sea ice is not a sterile environment

This morning I posted my 10,000 tweet.

Whilst I am not sure if 10,000 is significant, I pointed to the brilliant NASA Earth Observation www site which has a wonderful post today about the reduction of sea ice increasing phytoplankton growth in the Arctic. (Be sure to click the "image comparision" button on that page).

High chlorophyll in open water
Sat picture from 10 July 2011 showing milligrams of chlorophyll per cubic meter of seawater. From the Aqua Satellite

So ignore the fact that my tweet had the wrong year in (I said 2012, the pic is 2011 - the text on the page refers to date collected in 2012 hence the confusion). The point is the picture shows that in open water (the bit that isn't grey), in the Arctic there is increased light through the water column when you take the ice away. The result is the phytoplankton can grow to form relatively large blooms. Dr Karen Frey is quoted saying that in 2012 they measured:

a massive bloom of phytoplankton stretching up to 100 kilometers (60 miles) under the ice pack.

It struck me talking to people this morning that some people can think of the sea ice environment as a barren life free habitat. It's easy to think that when the images we have in our minds are of the "barren wastes".

But it is not like that all the time.

This is a unmodified picture I took of the sea ice in the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica.

Brown sea ice
A standard unenhanced picture of Antarctic sea ice. floe sizes ~1-2m across.

That incredible brown colouration is the pigment in micro-organisms which is absorbed into the sea ice when it is generated.  Sea ice is an amazing and complex habitat with organisms living in the gaps between the ice crystals. There is some great stuff online to tell you about the sea ice ecosystems, and the Alfred Wegener Institute have also made this interactive.

If you want to read an excellent introduction to the sea ice, its environment and impact, then Prof David Thomas wrote this wonderful book. Or there is the much higher level (and industrially expensive) book which I wrote a chapter for called just sea ice.

There is some top research in the UK going on about the biology of sea ice and the changing climate. For example Dr Ceri Lewis (Exeter) has some great stuff online here, and you can find Ceri on twitter.