New NASA Discovery Reveals Unprecedented Blooms Of Ocean Plant Life Beneath Arctic Ice

Thanks to a NASA-sponsored expedition to the Arctic Ocean in the summers of 2010 and 2011, scientists have found an area underneath the sea ice, which is richer in microscopic marine plants, essential to all sea life, than any other ocean region on the Earth.

The expedition, called ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment), explored the waters in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas along Alaska’s western and northern coasts using optical technologies. According to scientists, the findings would help reveal a new consequence of the Arctic’s warming climate and provide a vital clue to understanding the impacts of a changing climate and environment on the Arctic Ocean and its ecology.

Sunsets started to tease the Arctic horizon as scientists on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy headed south in the Chukchi Sea during the final days collecting ocean data for the 2011 ICESCAPE mission. (NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

On July 10, 2011, Jens Ehn of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (left), and Christie Wood of Clark University (right), scooped water from melt ponds on sea ice in the Chukchi Sea during the NASA-sponsored ICESCAPE expedition. (NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy encountered only small patches of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea during the final days collecting ocean data for the 2011 ICESCAPE mission. (NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

On July 12, 2011, crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy retrieved a canister dropped by parachute from a C-130, which brought supplies for some mid-mission fixes. (NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

On July 6, 2011, ICESCAPE scientists lowered optical instruments through a hole at the bottom of a melt pond, to study the waters underneath the ice. (NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

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