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The Arctic holds the key to climate change

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In a place at the very top of the Northern Hemisphere scientists are collecting the most important samples. Arctic News yesterday reports how devastating the changes have been in the Arctic due to warming waters and ash blown from fires in Alaska and Canada. There is an urgent need to collect data on the changes in the Arctic.

Phytoplankton is the key element in the change of the planet as the specks of algae are emitted to the clouds from the basic phytoplankton. This is the key to affect climate swings and it is the key to feeding arctic inhabitants.

A few years ago Kevin Arrigo was in the Chukchi Sea for a research project funded by NASA. He states, “The deeper we went into the ice, the more phytoplankton there were. They reached amazing concentrations, to the point where it was the largest bloom anybody had ever seen anywhere in the world’s oceans. And it was less than three feet of ice.”

Why is this research so important? What is its connection to Climate Change on the planet? Bob Pickart, the lead physical oceanographer, for a project funded by the National Science Foundation in the Chukchi Sea this spring had the goal to gather hundreds of water samples. The samples contain the nutrients which spur the growth of the phytoplankton. Once it begins it goes up the food chain to all inhabitants in the Chukchi Sea and Arctic- both ocean and land. This is the basis for the ecosystem.

When phytoplankton has light, it can bloom and blooms were found three feet deep in the ice. Arrigo says that, “Productivity has been shifting earlier and earlier, because the ice is melting earlier and earlier. But now the bloom — the productivity — is not even waiting for the ice to melt.”

This presents a new set of circumstances. Arrigo is concerned that if it’s coming earlier for animals who have set their biological clock : “What’s going to happen? Are they going to produce their offspring at a point when the bloom’s already happened, it’s too late, there’s no food in the water?”

The imbalance of ice melting more quickly and earlier each year changes the actions of polar bears and other inhabitants to hunt on the disappearing solid ice for the fish. The phytoplankton will transmit the algae upward to the atmosphere earlier and cause an imbalance in a chain of effects set from the past decades of ten thousand years.

The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to warming due to seas in the Arctic Ocean which are often shallow and covered by sea ice that is disappearing rapidly. The Arctic Ocean acts like a trap capturing heat carried in by the Gulf Stream, which brings in ever warmer water and the land around it is affected with melting ice. Of all the heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse gases, 90 percent goes into oceans, while the remaining 10 percent goes to the Arctic ice sheets.

In the US President Obama has created a task force of 26 officials from across the country to address the issue. He announced a nearly $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition in June. Obama told members of the task force at a meeting this past Wednesday that, "We are here because we know that climate change is an undeniable scientific fact." For the hard hit Alaska tribes facing ice melts and rising sea levels, the Interior Department is setting aside $10 million dollars.

The question of how the Arctic region will change and with it the planet finds its answer in the Chukchi Sea where the Arctic life from plant blooms lead to its inhabitants. The need for study and answers with technology based equipment will unravel the secrets of the phytoplankton in the Arctic for mankind of the planet.

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