Latest Arctic Warning Sign: Early Blooms of Plankton

Essential organisms affected by melting ice: study
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Mar 7, 2011 5:12 PM CST
A picture taken on August 23, 2007 shows the Esmark glacier on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, which shrank by 3.5 kilometers since 1966.   (Getty Images/AFP PHOTO/PIERRE-HENRY DESHAYES)
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(Newser) – Melting Arctic ice has spurred tiny organisms in the region to bloom far earlier, a study suggests—a shift which could have disastrous results for the entire Arctic ecosystem. Phytoplankton are at the root of the food web there: zooplankton subsist on them, fish eat the zooplankton, birds eat the fish, and so on. But now, phytoplankton populations are peaking as many as 50 days earlier than they were just 14 years ago, reports the Washington Post. "A 50-day shift is a big shift," says one expert; the study's author calls the trend "obvious and significant."

Right now, the change is affecting about 400,000 square miles, and “as the planet warms, the threat is that these changes seen closer to land may spread across the entire Arctic,” says a scientist. It’s not yet clear what that would mean for other organisms—but when plankton blooms change timing in the northern Atlantic, cod populations plummet. And with the Arctic becoming a possible target for fishermen, the altered timing could have implications for our food supply, too.

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