Department of Earth, Environmental & Planetary Sciences

Evidence of Phytoplankton Blooms Under Antarctic Sea Ice

A new paper published by Frontiers, led by Assistant Professor (Research) Christopher Horvat, challenges our current understanding of the Antarctic ecology and the lifecycles of growth that happen under the ice. 

Over the last decade, many ecologists have been captivated by the idea that regions under Arctic sea ice are supporting life. This interest began in a high-profile study based on observations by Kevin Arrigo and colleagues in 2011. The resulting consensus was that climate change was the cause of these under-ice blooms, as the thinner ice let in light that allowed phytoplankton to grow. On the other hand, not much had been observed in the Antarctic, so it was thought that this growth was a new and limited development.  

However, Horvat and colleagues discovered that areas under Antarctic ice are productive, maybe incredibly so. In this study, the team used many observational sources and found evidence that things are growing under the ice most of the time. 

"Since the Antarctic hasn't changed much, this has always been going on," explains Horvat, "and our idea of how the marine food web works may be flawed in polar regions."

This opens up many exciting possibilities for exploring under-ice ecology in Antarctica. Because this new discovery allows scientists to identify the regions that would be most productive, researchers can sample these events directly and see their impacts on the food web and carbon sequestration.

Visit Frontiers for the full paper.