Ice melt brings tiny algae through Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic
“They constitute brightly flashing warning signals”
A microscopic plant that disappeared from North Atlantic 800,000 years ago, but now it’s back, thanks to the increased ice melt in the Arctic Ocean.
Some 800,000 years ago a tiny species of plankton, called Neodenticula seminae, went extinct in the North Atlantic.
Today, that microscopic plant has become an Atlantic resident again, having drifted from the Pacific through the Arctic Ocean, scientists said June 26 in a news release from the Flanders Marine Institute in Belgium.
Blame it on the increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage which opened a route for the tiny algae.
While the algae is food source, scientists aren’t happy because they say “any changes at the base of the marine food web could, like an earthquake, shake or even topple the pillars of existing Atlantic ocean life.”
The discovery represents “the first evidence of a trans-Arctic migration in modern times” related to plankton, according to the UK-based Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, whose researchers warn that “such a geographical shift could transform the biodiversity and functioning of the Arctic and North Atlantic marine ecosystems.”
The voyage of the tiny marine plant isn’t the first migration seen recently: last year a Pacific gray whale, a species that vanished from the Atlantic 300 years ago, was spotted off the coasts of Spain and Israel.
Scientists believe the ice-reduced Arctic allowed the whale to cross into the North Atlantic, from where it wandered its way to the Mediterranean Sea, the news release said.
“The migrations are an example of how changing climate conditions cause species to move or change their behaviour, leading to shifts in ecosystems that are clearly visible today,” said Carlo Heip, from the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, which leads the CLAMER project, a collaboration of 17 marine institutes in 10 European countries which are looking at results of almost 300 climate change-related research projects in Europe’s oceans, the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas.
Overall, studies show that the impacts from marine life changes are likely to be mixed: some species could, in fact, thrive and parts of the ocean gain in biodiversity and productivity.
“But most of the impacts are so clearly negative, and the scope of change so potentially huge that, taken together, they constitute brightly flashing warning signals,” Heip said.
Other findings from the project show jellyfish are increasing in the northeast Atlantic, often forming massive blooms.
A venomous warm-water jellyfish species annually forces the closing of beaches. This form of jellyfish is “a gluttonous predator of juvenile fish”, so researchers consider its spread a harmful trend, the news release noted.
Recently, the highly venomous Portuguese Man-of-War, a jellyfish-like subtropical creature, are found more regularly in northern Atlantic waters.