Mar 9 2011

Shifting spring: Arctic plankton blooming up to 50 days earlier now

By Brian Vastag
Washington Post Staff Writer

A light micrograph of plankton including water fleas (family Daphniidae) (Getty Images/oxford Scientific)

Climate researchers have long warned that the Arctic is particularly vulnerable to global warming. The dramatic shrinking of sea ice in areas circling the North Pole highlights those concerns.

A new report finds that the disappearing ice has apparently triggered another dramatic event – one that could disrupt the entire ecosystem of fish, shellfish, birds, and marine mammals that thrive in the harsh northern climate.

Each summer, an explosion of tiny ocean-dwelling plants and algae, called phytoplankton, anchors the Arctic food web.

But these vital annual blooms of phytoplankton are now peaking up to 50 days earlier than they did just 14 years ago, satellite data show.

“The ice is retreating earlier in the Arctic, and the phytoplankton blooms are also starting earlier,” said study leader Mati Kahru, an oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Read the rest of the story here.

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