A few years back I attended a mid-field season gathering of researchers working on International Polar Year projects. We were lucky enough to have collected the marine biologists, recently returned from a short cruise out of Barrow, AK with the mission to describe the biota living on the underside of the sea ice that is so critical to terrestrial Arctic ecology. It was absolutely stunning to me to realize that there is a whole ecosystem associated with the bottom of the ice, an ephemeral, threatened resource.
Depending on the time of year, sea ice covers 3-7% of the planet, making this relatively unexplored ecosystem fairly important to global biogeochemical processes. The algae trapped in and under sea ice, for example, accounts for 25% of the Arctic’s and 20% of the Antarctic’s primary productivity. This productivity trickles up the food web to the more well-known ice dwellers, such as polar bears and seals. Read More