ARC - NPS-Led Research Reveals Greater Abundance of Life Under Arctic Ice Than Previously Thought

For the longest time, scientists have written off there being much life below the Arctic sea ice.

Surely not enough sunlight would be able to get through the snow and ice to sustain an abundance of life. Additionally, satellites can’t see through the ice, and it was difficult for scientists interested in investigating this further to get out to the Arctic during the winter and spring – when the percent of Arctic ocean iced over was the highest – because most Arctic expeditions wait until there’s thinner ice so icebreakers can move through.

According to the Department of the Navy’s recently-published Arctic Strategy, “Progress is not possible without pushing the boundaries of science and technology.” And an innovative research effort funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Dept. of Energy, led by researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), is definitely pushing the boundaries of those long-held assumptions about just how much life is under the Arctic ice.

Researchers at NPS have a long history of innovative research in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. University faculty were direct contributors to the Navy’s Arctic Road Map released in 2014, students are frequent participants in the Navy’s ICEX exercise, and several faculty have partnered with the Office of Naval Research on a wide range of research projects.

Employing innovation and advanced computer modeling techniques, an NPS research team led by Oceanography Professors Jaclyn Clement Kinney and Wieslaw Maslowski modeled Arctic under-ice primary production from 1980 to 2018. The results of their effort showed a greater abundance of life under Arctic ice than previously thought, mostly in the form of single-cell plants (or phytoplankton) called diatoms. Their findings were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans in August 2020.

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