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10 April 2017

Arctic Melt Ponds May Provide Boost to Marine Life as Global Temperatures Rise

Img: Arctic Council
Climate change is having a disastrously damaging impact upon the Earth, threatening ecosystems around the world and changing the very landscape of our little blue planet. However, with such a massive shift in conditions come many unknowns, and one study now claims to have found a glimmer of hope in amongst the doom and gloom – an unlikely ecosystem is in fact flourishing amongst the dwindling ice.

Unfortunately it’s still bad news for the land-locked species of the Arctic, but their aquatic neighbours could gain massive benefit from an unlikely source as the number of melt pools increases in accordance with rising temperatures, nurturing within their own tiny ecosystems which are then mixed into the oceans as the sea ice disappears during summer. This newly-found abundance of life then becomes food for the larger ocean-dwelling species.

This is according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, which found that due to the fact that melt ponds magnify the sun’s rays and provide extra light and heat to the underlying water and ice, they are capable of harbouring a surprisingly high level of life as ‘mats’ of algae and bacteria evolve within.

Heidi Louise Sorensen, lead author of the study, said, “The melt ponds can form their own little ecosystem.

“When all the sea ice melts during the summer, algae and other organisms from melt ponds are released into the surrounding seawater. Some of this food is immediately ingested by creatures living high up in the water column. Other food sinks to the bottom and gets eaten by seabed dwellers.

“Given that larger and larger areas of melt ponds are being formed in the Arctic, we can expect the release of more and more food for creatures in the polar sea.”

These organisms provide a vital food source for the krill and copepods which are in themselves a crucial food source for many larger species, ranging from fish to seals to whales. The remaining algae will sink to the depths to provide nutrients for seabed-dwelling species.

The study also sought to identify why some melt ponds hold an abundance of such life, whilst others contain practically none. It has long been known that simple organisms can evolve in such environments, so why is it so hit-and-miss? It all comes down to nutrients.

So life to evolve in melt ponds, nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen must be introduced to the waters. This can happen via waves of seawater reaching the pool, by storms carrying nutrients from elsewhere, rains carrying them from the mainland, or by migratory species bringing them along for the ride. Many of these events are also expected to rise in frequency as temperatures increase.

Professor Ronnie Glud, who also worked on the study alongside Sorensen, said, “Climate change is accompanied by more storms and more precipitation, and we must expect that more nutrients will be released from the surroundings into the melt ponds.

“These conditions, plus the fact that the distribution of areas of melt ponds is increasing, can contribute to increased productivity in plant and animal life in the Arctic seas.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.