Massive Algae Bloom Discovered in Arctic

June 28th, 2012

ICESCAPE scientist Karen Frey taking optical measurements in a melt pond, with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy on the background. Photo: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Kathryn Hansen.

Researchers on an ICESCAPE expedition have unearthed giant underwater algae (or phytoplankton) bloombeneath the ice in the Arctic Ocean.

  • ICESCAPE (Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment) is a program sponsored by NASA study the impacts of climate change on the Arctic
  • The ICECAPE researchers who discovered the rich plankton environment did not expect to see any under-ice blooms
  • The NASA ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager, Paula Bontempi, says that their discovery is “like finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave desert”
  • These giant plankton blooms spanned 100kilometres (62 miles) underneath one ice pack
  • Ice packs were four times biologically richer than the surrounding ice-free arctic water
  • Plankton was able to survive off the sunlight that was magnified through the pools of melted ice above the pack and into the waters below
  • Under-ice plankton blooms were able to reproduce quicker than their open water counterparts: they can double their numbers more than once a day instead of the two to three days the others took
  • Researchers are unsure as to how long this under-ice plankton has been around, or if they will continue to flourish as the older, thicker ice is replaced, due to climate change, with the young, thin ice that allows light to pass through more easily
  • Plankton is essential to life in the ocean and can also help to trap carbon dioxide (CO2)

Want to read more?  Click here to see the full story: Massive algae bloom in Arctic like “finding the Amazon rainforest in the Mojave Desert

Elephant Population Halved Around National Park in Republic of Congo

June 23rd, 2012

Photo Credit: Thomas Breuer/Wildlife Conservation Society

Elephant populations are falling in the Central African country of Republic of Congo due to illegal poaching, according to a new survey.

  • Elephants are hunted illegally (poached) for their ivory tusks.
  • Most of this ivory is sold in China and Vietnam, but some does end up in the United States and Europe.
  •  The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) surveyed the forest elephant populations outside of the Republic of Congo’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park from 2006 until 2011.
  • The WCS survey found that the number of elephants outside of the park had decreased by more than half, dropping from 13,000 to 6,000 elephants in that short period of time.
  • However, because Nouabalé-Ndoki has more regulation and guards against poaching, inside the park African elephant population stayed about the same.
  • WCS is calling for an increased effort to protect elephant populations in Africa.
  • African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are different from the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana). The savanna elephant is the larger and better-known species.
  • African forest elephants are also found in the following African countries: Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo (DRC), and Central African Republic

Read more: Elephant numbers halved in Central Africa in 5 years.

Manta Rays Connected to Bird Droppings!

June 10th, 2012

Scientists have discovered a chain of life that connects trees, bird droppings, plankton and manta rays and shown how human disturbance is affecting this complex system.

  • This research was conducted on the Palmyra atoll in the Pacific Ocean
  • An atoll is a coral island that encircles a lagoon. Atolls are important places for birds to roost (or rest).
  • On the Palmyra atoll, birds roost in trees that are native to the island.
  • Droppings from the birds fall into the soil, filling it with nutrients.
  • The soil washes into the sea and plankton survive on these nutrients.
  • The manta rays feed on the plankton.
  • Scientists have found that when the native trees on the island are replaced with planted palm trees, fewer birds visit the atoll and this chain of life is disturbed.
  • Fewer trees = less birds visiting = fewer droppings = less nutrients in the water = less plankton = fewer manta rays.
  • This research is important because it shows us that life is connected in very complex ways and that our actions may affect the web of life in ways we cannot imagine.

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