News / Science & Technology

Melting Arctic Triggers Re-arrangement of Marine Life

This Pacific gray whale, spotted off the coast of Israel in 2010, most likely was able to migrate into the Mediterranean as the result of the shrinking of Arctic sea ice due to climate change.
This Pacific gray whale, spotted off the coast of Israel in 2010, most likely was able to migrate into the Mediterranean as the result of the shrinking of Arctic sea ice due to climate change.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

About the same time early humans were learning to make fire, a tiny marine plant disappeared from the Atlantic Ocean. Now, some 800,000 years later, it’s back.

The microscopic algae was previously blocked by Arctic ice. However, melting glaciers have opened a channel for the algae to make the trip from the Pacific Ocean, where it is abundant.  

Open waters

The last time water flowed free between the Pacific and Atlantic was two to three million years ago, says oceanographer Philip Reid of the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science.

“And other species in the Atlantic were almost certainly made extinct and there is the danger that this could happen again. If the ice retreats further, as is expected, within possibly 40 years time, the whole of the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer months of the year.”

Deep sea sediment cores confirm that the tiny species of plankton called Neodenticula seminae hasn’t been seen in the Atlantic Ocean in 800,000 years.
Deep sea sediment cores confirm that the tiny species of plankton called Neodenticula seminae hasn’t been seen in the Atlantic Ocean in 800,000 years.

Reid, who reported the event in the Journal Global Change Biology, says the algae  - which plays a key role in helping absorb carbon from the atmosphere in the Pacific - is now well established in the Atlantic, as far south as New York.  

It’s unknown whether the changes are having an impact on other species. What’s more significant, he says, is that it is an indicator of change and of what we might see in the future.

One thing is certain. Arctic ice is melting at an accelerating rate and the oceans are warming. Studies show the last six years - between 2005 and 2010 - were the warmest years recorded in the Arctic since measurements began in 1880.

Curious comeback

Another curious event was the appearance, last year, of a Pacific grey whale in the Mediterranean Sea.

Grey whales, once common in the Atlantic, were hunted to extinction 300 years ago, says Katja Philippart, a marine biologist with the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research.  She says the most plausible explanation for the grey whale’s appearance is the opening of the Arctic waters.  

Philippart is coordinator of the Climate Change and European Marine Ecosystem Research Project or CLAMER, a joint effort among 17 marine institutes in 10 European countries.

CLAMER is gathering data from 300 climate-related studies from the last 13 years that focus on Europe’s oceans and coastal waters as well as the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas.

Timing shift

Philippart observes three broad trends: the opening of the arctic, the movement of sea life northward and the shift in timing of how animals and plants grow.

The breeding success of the Atlantic puffin is impacted by warming seas.
The breeding success of the Atlantic puffin is impacted by warming seas.

Warmer waters and other changing conditions mean some prey species are no longer available when their predators need them.

Philippart cites the example of the Atlantic puffin, a seabird that breeds off the coast of Norway.  

“They lay their eggs at such a time that if the chicks need food, the young herring is passing along the coastline and they take it and bring it to the young," she says. "But the recent advancement of this timing of the herring, so now the herring passes before the chicks are hatched from the eggs, meaning that once the chicks are there and hungry the herring has already passed and the puffins don’t have the herring anymore to feed to their young.”

Mixed consequences

Overall, Philippart says, the CLAMER studies show that this re-arrangement of marine life will likely have mixed consequences.

“It could be for the good. It could be for the worse.  It could be different from area to area. So some places stocks are declining and other areas stocks are growing and that makes it hard.  So we can only indicate: Be prepared for change.”

Philippart adds that it is important to continue ocean research to determine how best to adapt to the inevitable climatic changes.

Project CLAMER concludes with an international conference in Brussels in September.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More